Is ESPN’s Deflategate coverage a factor in its financial and viewership struggles?

Debate the answer with Chad Finn and Boston sports fans at The Sports Q.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, file photo, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during a news conference during preparations for the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game in Houston. Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham, prize-winning investigative reporters from ESPN, are working on a book about Goodell, team owners and the “momentous power struggles” that shape the league. Crown Archetype told The Associated Press on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, that it had acquired the book “Powerball.” (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during a news conference. –AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Welcome to Boston.com’s Sports Q, our daily conversation, initiated by you and moderated by Chad Finn, about a compelling topic in Boston sports. Here’s how it works: You submit questions to Chad through TwitterFacebook, email, his Friday chat, and any other outlet you prefer. He’ll pick one each day (except for Saturday) to answer, then we’ll take the discussion to the comments. Chad will stop by several times per day to navigate. But you drive the conversation.

Deflategate reparations, time to pay the piper #PatriotsNation – 2cool4u (via Twitter.)

Got a lot of this over the last 24 hours from schadenfreude-thirsty Patriots fans as word of the ESPN personalities losing their jobs in Wednesday’s layoff trickled out.

Advertisement

It’s not a question, but a common sentiment among Patriots fans that are still (rightfully) mad about how ESPN covered Deflategate. I get it. But the tough-luck sentiment does lead to a question.

Is there any truth to it all? Was that warped Pats coverage actually a factor in ESPN’s recent troubles?

Nope. No way. Not at all. It’s an enormous stretch to suggest its role in that stupid saga has anything to do with the talent bloodletting of Wednesday. Their problems are much bigger than vengeful Patriots fans who no can longer even bring themselves to hate-watch them.

ESPN is shrinking because it has massive live-rights financial commitments and isn’t bringing in as much money as it used to for Disney stockholders primarily because of cable cord-cutting all over the United States. It’s that simple, and has nothing to do with Chris Mortensen’s absurd tweet about deflated footballs.

ESPN paid billions of dollars for the broadcast rights to live NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball games (among other sports) in recent years. The decision to do so makes sense fundamentally – compelling live sports remain the consistent highly-rated draw on cable networks, and ESPN’s main advantage, other than familiarity, over upstarts such as Fox Sports 1.

Advertisement

But ESPN’s massive live rights deals – including a 10-year, $15.2 billion deal with the NFL and a nine-year, $12 billion deal with the NBA – are juxtaposed with significant declines in revenue due to the decline of cable television subscriptions. ESPN, which costs each individual cable subscriber more than $9 per month when fees for ESPN2, ESPNU, and SEC Network are included, has lost an estimated 12 million subscribers in the past six years according to Business Insider.

I’m sure there are many, many Patriots fans among those 12 million lost subscribers. Just not enough to have a significant singular effect. It’s not just New Englanders who are tuning out ESPN compared to how they used to consume it. It’s sports fans everywhere, and Wednesday we saw what the ugly fallout looks like.

Let’s talk about it in the comments.