With cord-cutting on the rise amid television’s “streaming” age, could a pay-per-view Super Bowl be on the horizon? Former ESPN president John Skipper, now of DAZN and Meadowlark Media, wouldn’t rule it out. Skipper mentioned this possibility in passing during a recent appearance on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz.
“Generally, the math doesn’t work. Fans don’t want to buy a league pass. They want to buy a service that gives them most of the sports they want. They’re willing to buy two or three or four,” said Skipper in response to a question raised by executive producer Mike Ryan, who asked if Major League Soccer (MLS) would consider creating its own network or streaming service rather than relying on broadcast partners like ESPN. “I think it will be just like it’s been before. I think ESPN+ will continue to hold most of the rights and that’s what you’ll have. And then you’ll have to supplement. You may end up with some pay-per-view stuff. Super Bowl, that’s an interesting thing. Take that to pay-per-view.”
That stopped Le Batard dead in his tracks. “Whoa, whoa. Let’s just end right there. The Super Bowl on pay-per-view?” said Le Batard in disbelief. “Holy s---, John.”
Skipper, who signed many of the largest television rights deals in sports history during his time at ESPN, sees a pay-per-view Super Bowl not just as an idea, but an inevitability in our rapidly-evolving media landscape. “I mean that’s how they’re going to replace the money someday,” reasoned Skipper. “Because there’s not going to be enough money in the advertising. If people are willing to pay big money to see Floyd Mayweather fight a Paul brother, I would think the amount of money generated by pay-per-view … maybe you’ll be able to buy a lifetime sub.”
NBC has faced criticism during the Olympics for putting some of their best content, including Team USA basketball games, behind a paywall (clearly Chris “Mad Dog” Russo is no fan of NBC’s subscription-based Peacock Premium). That may be an inconvenience to some, but it seems to be where television is headed.
Skipper also sees significant change in store for the NCAA with Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, a move many see as a death sentence for the Big 12, which has shriveled to just eight members. “It’s going to be super conferences,” said Skipper, forecasting the next decade of conference realignment. “The basketball tournament is an interesting thing too, if you created four, 16-team super conferences. The basketball conferences play in the NCAA tournament by choice. There is nothing that would prevent a breakaway basketball tournament.”
That would be a major blow to mid-major powers like Butler and Gonzaga, eliminating the “Cinderella” arc that makes March Madness so fun. But as recent events in college sports would suggest, sentimental factors like tradition and school pride pale in comparison to the almighty dollar.