In Orlando for the opening of the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, Sports Media Watch had a chance to briefly speak with ESPN/ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer. The topic of discussion: ABC affiliates’ concern over the move of sporting events from ABC to ESPN.
SMW: There was an article that came out a couple of weeks ago, where some ABC affiliates were concerned about the amount of sports migrating from ABC to ESPN. I wanted to know, is there any idea, or any plan in the works to maybe move some of those events back to ABC? Or is there going to be continued migration to ESPN?
Bodenheimer: Well, I think you’re going to see we’re constantly refining what we’re airing and where we’re airing it. We still have an extremely strong line-up — Indy 500, NBA Finals, Little League World Series, college football Saturday night — we still have an extremely strong line-up on ABC, and I expect that to continue. As far as exactly how it flows in the future, we’ll have to see. I think you’ll see — we could see it balancing. But we’re going to stay strong on ABC.
SMW: This year in particular, there seems to be a lot more movement towards ESPN. I know you guys are planning to air the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA entirely on ESPN instead of ABC, also no more Rose Bowl on ABC. So do you see the concern that some affiliates might have?
Bodenheimer: We work closely with the ABC affiliates, we understand their issues. They understand the economics of the business are changing, and sports on free, over-the-air television is a challenged model. That’s why you’re seeing some of the shifts. It’s no more complicated than that. But I don’t think you’re going to continue to see a wholesale evolution of everything shifting from ABC to ESPN. As I said, we’re going to stay strong on ABC with the properties that remain.
SMW: Do you think there could be a day, somewhere down the line, where ESPN is airing the NBA Finals, maybe even airing a Super Bowl?
Bodenheimer: Oh, sure. I wouldn’t be the head of this company if I wasn’t thinking optimistically about what we could air down the road. When that occurs, if it occurs, we’ll have to see. But I certainly look forward to that day.