Commentary

ESPN's 'Boardroom' Risks Turning Off Fans With Real-World Money Problems

ESPN magazine’s cover story this week delves into the sports business as part of a tie-in with "The Boardroom," a six-part series on Disney’s video streaming service ESPN+.

The article may be interesting to people who care about shoe deals and brand strategies, but also risks turning off sports fans who may be reminded of their real-world money problems such as crushing debt, depleted savings accounts and endless bills.

Kevin Durant, the star player for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, appears on the magazine’s cover; his investment startup Thirty Five Ventures produces the show.

"The Boardroom" delves into the sports business with interviews of athletes, tech moguls and sports executives, aiming to capture "the new way in which professional athletes interact with the business of sports, entrepreneurship, the investment community and our culture more widely,” Connor Schell, ESPN’s executive vice president of content, told Variety.

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Perhaps sports fans are interested in how professional athletes parlay their fame into sponsorships, social media followings and venture capital partnerships, but it seems like a stretch. Trade publications and business news have a limited audience, as sinking ratings for shows like “Shark Tank” or cable channels like CNBC have shown.

In the movie industry, data about box-office receipts used to be of interest to a handful of studio executives and other industry insiders. Most moviegoers read movie reviews or relied on word-of-mouth recommendations to decide what to see.

Blockbuster movies like “Jaws” and “Star Wars” were part of a gradual shift in the cultural conversation about films as the reporting of previously specialized data became more mainstream. Reports of box-office receipts and rankings are now a staple of general-interest news, and help many people decide what's worth seeing.

It’s less likely that sports fans follow particular players because of how much money they make or their investing prowess. Sports provide escapist entertainment, and it’s not clear that general audiences want to see how the industry’s puppeteers pull the marionette strings.

Given the horror stories of professional athletes who have gone completely broke or failed to fulfill their “Hoop Dreams,” I respect Durant’s interest in making wise business decisions and investments. Growing up in Denver, I saw countless Broncos players attach their names to restaurants and nightclubs that went out of business -- and no, they didn't close because of suspicious fires attributed to faulty wiring, as far as I'm aware.

It’s an odd programming strategy for ESPN, which has lost millions of viewers who didn’t want to pay for fat cable bundles of sports programming they never watched. The channel also faced criticism for perceived political biases on its 6 p.m. "SportsCenter" slot, which detractors mocked as “WokeCenter,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The sports-viewing audience is rapidly aging, and insider-y looks at the industry are not going to appeal to younger viewers.

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