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Ex-Boss From ESPN, DAZN Says You Can’t Build a Streaming Service on ‘Secondary Sports’

Michael King

Earlier this year, former ESPN chief John Skipper moved into a new realm — podcasting, documentaries, and video. After leaving ESPN and a brief stay at DAZN, Skipper and former ESPN Radio host Dan LeBetard joined forces to create a startup, Meadowlark Media, to create new podcasts, video series, and documentaries for streaming companies like Netflix, Apple, Amazon and anyone else interested in the content.

While at DAZN, Skipper said he learned a lot about how subscription streaming works, and more particularly how sports streaming works.

“I grew to understand quite acutely what a difficult technological challenge it is to distribute content in real-time at scale. You’re trying to do dozens of games in a short period of time, a sports weekend. That is exponentially more complicated than delivering a large repository of content that is already in the computers. Netflix isn’t sending 900,000 people a stream all at 3 p.m. on an afternoon,” he told Bloomberg this week.

“At DAZN we tried secondary sports and tertiary sports, thinking ‘they can’t work on pay-tv, but there are 17 million hardcore badminton fans. We just gotta get 9% to sign up and you’ve got 300,000 people.’ None of that stuff works. What works is top of the pyramid rights that people have to see.”

This isn’t the only take he has had on the future of live sports.

As a guest on “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz” podcast Skipper said that the Super Bowl should go pay-per-view.

“Take that to pay-per-view,” Skipper says when discussing the chance of sports leagues ditching broadcast partners and doing it themselves.

“That’s how they’re going replace the money someday,” Skipper said, “there’s not going to be enough money in the advertising. If people are willing to pay big money to watch Floyd Mayweather fight a Paul brother…”

But, in his new role at Meadowlark – it is less about live sports and more about making content streaming services crave. After Skipper brought The Last Dance to ESPN last year, everyone else is pushing to create their own version. Netflix has recently announced plans for three sports documentaries of their own. Peacock, HBO Max, Hulu, and Paramount+ are all shopping for content in addition.

While Meadowlark Media is ponying up early with podcasts, they understand that the big money is not in podcasting, but in video. Speaking to Bloomberg, he wouldn’t talk about specifics, but there are a couple of projects in the works, including a video project about the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, and a second project being developed by ex-ESPN personality Kenny Mayne that’s being described as “Ted Lasso-esque.”

Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw asked him several pointed questions about Meadowlark Media and where its place in the streaming and podcast universe lies.

“Streaming services generally underrepresent sports. There is just not a lot of sports content in any genre on Netflix, Hulu, Paramount+, HBO Now, or [Discovery Plus],” Skipper said. “Our intention is to provide that across all kinds of genres — audio, terrestrial radio, podcasts, documentaries, unscripted reality. We will start in sports, but I don’t think we view ourselves as having to completely stay rooted there.”

DAZN

DAZN is a live sports subscription streaming service that offers 80+ fights a year from Matchroom USA, Bellator, Golden Boy Promotions, World Boxing Super Series and Combate Americas.

They are the exclusive home to Canelo’s next 11 fights, starting with his December 15th bout against Rocky Fielding at Madison Square Garden, plus 10 of Golden Boy Promotion’s best fights.

For all fights, they include every match from the entire undercard through the main event. DAZN is available for $9.99 a month, after a one-month free trial.

Shaw asked Skipper what he thinks the mainstream companies are getting right when it comes to sports.

The Last Dance got it right. Ted Lasso is another good example’ of when people have gotten sports right. The answer is now there’s not much,” Skipper replied. “When you look at the track record of 30 for 30, that’s a great example. Those things did great. HBO is not doing that much. ESPN has cut back on 30 for 30 fairly dramatically. Two out of every three pitches I hear refer to The Last Dance or Anthony Bourdain. Everyone is trying to do the next Last Dance. But 30 for 30 is a better model. Some of those documentary series are too long.”

Skipper said that sports documentaries are the type of material necessary for overall viewer retention by the larger services.

“The content you need for retention is complementary content to the first core games. You don’t need a big library. You need shows about Serie A to get Serie A fans on. When ESPN+ gets there, they’ll discover they need a lot less studio shows. If people come on six to eight times a month, it’s enough,” he said. “They will need complementary content, and they will buy from third parties instead of retaining large staff to do their own.”

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