Canceled College Sports Could Cost ESPN Millions in Ad Revenue

Last season, more than half of all college football viewers tuned into an ESPN outlet

Fan's Sign at ESPN's "College GameDay" Raises $1M for Charity
The set of ESPN's "College GameDay." (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty)
Boston Globe via Getty Images
By Evan Bleier / July 31, 2020 12:11 pm

With Major League Baseball struggling to play games thanks to COVID-19 outbreaks just a week after Opening Day, college fans are getting nervous about the prospect of NCAA football returning in the fall.

With almost $800 million in ad revenue on the line, no one is more nervous about the college football season being on shaky ground than ESPN and ABC executives. 

After taking in $793 million in advertising revenue from the ESPN and ABC family of networks from college football in 2019, the Worldwide Leader could see a 12 percent, or $320 million, ad revenue dip by the end of the year, according to Bloomberg.

A reduced college season would make it nearly impossible for ESPN to bring in the audience size that’s been promised to advertisers as more than half of all college football viewers tuned into an ESPN outlet last season. With a shortened season or no football at all, that obviously won’t be the case. 

ESPN has already furloughed workers and asked on-air talent to take pay cuts, and with no college football, those measures may have to be extended to make ends meet.

ESPN and college football fans got a little positive news on Thursday when the powerhouse Southeastern Conference reconfigured its schedule to include in-conference games only. The 10-game schedule eliminates all non-conference opponents and begins on September 26 with the SEC championship game pushed back to December 19, 13 days before the College Football Playoff semifinals are scheduled to be played on New Year’s Day.

The move and similar ones being made by the other Power Five conferences makes it likely this season’s playoff teams will be selected without the aid of non-conference games.

But, at least at this point, the plan is to play.

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