Sports | October 31, 2017 11:31 am

Could ESPN Stop Airing NFL Games?

To combat the lost earnings and declining popularity, the network could be forced to get creative.

Can you imagine a scenario in which you and all your rowdy friends aren’t watching Hank Williams Jr. serenade you with the opening lines of ESPN’s Monday Night Football song? Could you fantasize about a time when the Worldwide Leader no longer carries its most iconic NFL game each week?

You may not have to for much longer.

As the cable sports media landscape evolves, so does ESPN’s approach to content packaging. Cord cutters are costing the network an astonishing amount of money. Since ESPN earns nearly $7 per cable subscription, the decline in revenue has resulted in massive layoffs and a growing image that the mammoth organization is finally starting to crack under the weight of an evolving sports world that no longer needs shows like SportsCenter for its game highlights or analysis.

To combat the lost earnings and declining popularity, ESPN will be forced to get creative, which is why James Andrew Miller of The Hollywood Reporter sees potential for the network to decline to renew its NFL rights package when it expires in 2021. A combination of increased rights fees, over-saturation of games on TV, and unchanging subscriber fees without NFL games could force ESPN to completely alter its approach to sports altogether, abandoning Monday Night Football and saving billions of dollars in the process.

“Timing for the next round of NFL rights — beginning in a couple years — is turning out to be rather propitious for the NFL,” Miller wrote. “By then, digital players like Twitter, Google and Facebook will have had time to decide if they want to make what will be a huge leap from limited deals they’ve done with the league, like Amazon’s $50 million deal for streaming Thursday nights to the multiple billion-dollar price tags for actual games. If they do, that increased competition could drive prices even higher and further push ESPN out of the game.”

It’s an extremely interesting thought, and one that makes sense when considering the state of ESPN. The network is already reportedly about to undergo its second round of mass layoffs in six months and is losing revenue and viewers on the whole. President John Skipper will need to take dramatic, creative steps to veer back on course, and this is but one unique way the company could save money and be forced to create more original content in the process. The Worldwide Leader could also, as Miller notes, enjoy a spending rights fees spree in other sports with the money saved, adding more college athletics, soccer, and baseball to its repertoire that would increase versatility to its programming.

The more you think about it, the more it makes sense. But ESPN giving up its bread and butter Monday Night Football game, even if ratings have declined since 2015, is almost harder to imagine than a Browns win.