ESPN Lost Over Half a Million Subscribers in October

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Is it time to worry about ESPN subscriber numbers yet? After all, it seems that every week churns up another decline in ratings for the NFL games that are now broadcast weekly on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and a few other odd days in the bargain. If viewers aren’t watching football, they don’t need to listen to hours of football talk either.

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), owner of all things ESPN, took a hit to its share price Monday after Nielsen reported of a big drop in subscriber numbers to the sports network. ESPN and ESPN2 covered an estimated 76% of the October pay-TV sports audience, according to data reported at Sports TV Ratings.

FS1, the flagship sports channel of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (NASDAQ: FOXA), claims coverage of 73% of the pay-TV audience. Overall, 84% of pay-TV subscribers have access to TV sports broadcasts, and in most cases, whether they watch it or not. On average, the monthly fee for ESPN costs about $7 month, or nearly $84 a year, about three times the next-highest priced pay-TV channel, and about 89 million Americans subscribe to ESPN.

But according to one report, ESPN lost 621,000 subscribers in the month of October, the worst ever in the company’s history. The sports network is disputing the numbers supplied by Nielsen, but even if ESPN prevails in the argument, that does nothing to soften the average monthly loss of around 300,000 over the past couple of years, according to Outkick the Coverage.

Clay Travis, at Outkick the Coverage, also noted where ESPN spends all those subscription fees the network collects:

Presently ESPN is on the hook for the following yearly sports rights payments: $1.9 billion a year to the NFL for Monday Night Football, $1.47 billion to the NBA, $700 million to Major League Baseball, $608 million for the College Football Playoff, $225 million to the ACC, $190 million to the Big Ten, $120 million to the Big 12, $125 million a year to the PAC 12, and hundreds of millions more to the SEC.

After closing at $93.85 on Friday, Disney stock dropped more than a buck to $92.69 on Monday and traded down another 0.3% in the noon hour Tuesday, at $92.40 in a 52-week range of $86.25 to $120.65. The consensus 12-month price target on the stock is $107.04.