Tennis is the kind of sport where you’re either a hardcore fan or you can name the four Grand Slam events and that’s about it. There’s very little in between. If the people that fall into the “I can name four tournaments and only four tournaments” category watch any tennis at all, it is usually Wimbledon.
You would think then that it is a no-brainer that ESPN would be thrilled to have the broadcast rights to that tournament. It’s a chance to get not only hardcore tennis fans, but a few casual, wandering eyeballs to flip to the network and stay a while. But Billy Burack of The Big Lead says the timing of Wimbledon could not be worse for the folks in Bristol.
Burack says that ESPN could be drawing bigger ratings by letting its most recognizable talent talk about NBA free agency. While that is still happening, it isn’t happening on the main network, and that’s a problem.
Imagine if the upcoming final season of Game of Thrones … had its last episode was moved to an alternative HBO channel. That is what will take place next week on ESPN when Wimbledon is airing.
Several of ESPN’s shows that would undoubtedly be centered around free agency talk next week – Get Up, First Take, The Jump, SportsNation – will be airing on ESPN2, while Highly Questionable, Around the Horn, PTI, and High Noon will be off completely.
Much has been made of the struggles of ESPN’s daytime talk shows, but with a story like free agency, which is dominating sports coverage and Twitter, this should be a period where those shows see a significant ratings bump. With Wimbledon occupying The Mothership, that bump probably won’t exist in 2018, and between the launch of Get Up! and High Noon (9AM Pacific) and the expansion of First Take, this is a year where that bump isn’t just nice to have. It’s a necessity.
This will negatively impact Get Up the most significantly. Michael McCarthy of Sporting News is reporting that the disappointing, expensive morning show has until football season to get ratings up, or changes will be made. With Brian Windhorst saying the belief is most of the free agency drama will be finished by July 4, Get Up is missing out on what may have ended up as their highest-rated week until the aforementioned football season.
In recent years, several of the NBA’s biggest stories have broken late at night. Get Up is going to miss out on hundreds of thousands of viewers turning on the late editions of SportsCenter and leaving the channel on for the morning.
While Wimbledon annually does preempt ESPN’s morning lineup, they have not had a morning show with the stakes of the New York-based project. ESPN has also built the show, at least to this point, to be NBA-centric with Jalen Rose and Michelle Beadle.
Burack says that management in Bristol already has numbers they can look at as evidence of what will happen to those shows’ ratings.
Being preempted to ESPN2 is not just an easy “push the arrow up on the remote.” ESPN2 has essentially become a ghost channel since First Take was moved off of it. When First Take was last preempted to ESPN2 on April 5 and 6 for The Masters, it averaged 201,000 viewers, significantly lower than the numbers it regularly draws on the main ESPN channel.