College football bowl season is heating up this week, but broadcasting a smaller than usual slate of games is hitting ESPN hard.
Fourteen bowl games have already been nixed this year, sacrificing an estimated $21.7 million in advertising revenue. Last season, ESPN and its networks broadcast 36 of the 41 bowl games, averaging 5.7 million viewers per game.
Biggest losses from canceled games, based on 2019-20 revenue:
- Pinstripe Bowl, ESPN: $3.1 million
- Las Vegas Bowl, ABC: $3 million
- Guaranteed Rate Bowl, ESPN: $2.6 million
- Quick Lane Bowl, ESPN: $2 million
More than 10 other bowls have also been canceled because of the pandemic.
Many of the bowl games bring in less than $1 million for ESPN, but still factor into the wider profitability of a consistently expanding bowl season.
The bowl game losses are just the latest hit this year for the network, which laid off hundreds of employees in November. Subscribers are down 6% year over year and ESPN has lost 17 million over the past decade.
The sports giant has placed big bets on college football. It will pay $470 million annually through 2025 for College Football Playoff media rights.
Starting in 2024, ESPN will pay the SEC $300 million annually for exclusive rights to the conference’s football and men’s basketball games.