And There’s More Evidence of the Decline

ESPN is, of course, the sports channel, network, brand, whatever.

It is primarily owned by Disney, with the Hearst Corporation, another media conglomerate that lacks associated characters (except for fans of Welles’ Citizen Kane).

ESPN, since its establishment in 1979, has spun off a multitude of thin-slices, as in ESPN+, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNews, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, etc., etc., etc.

For purposes of full disclosure, my interest in sports is very evanescent at most. I think the only time I spent any time watching ESPN was some years ago when, for reasons that even I can’t come up with, I’d watch the World Series of Poker.

So here we are, about 100 words into this thing, and you’re wondering what the heck this has to do with music.

It’s this: “ESPN” was originally an acronym for “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.”

Entertainment.

Presumably, the most amount of musical entertainment associated with ESPN is openings to football games or bumper music on either sides of breaks or during the X Games. Comparatively—as in comparing the amount of time dedicated to baseball and the amount of time dedicated to soccer and the amount of time dedicated to music—the “entertainment,” if “entertainment” is thought to be something different than “sports” (which leads to a question of what “sports” are if not a form of entertainment: although I am confident that the people that I watched on the World Series of Poker all saw sports as a means by which they could achieve a bit more income), is microscopic.

For years ESPN has been something of a sports juggernaut (you don’t have all of those ancillary channels unless you are able to justify it).

But then it has hit COVID-19. Or COVID-19 hit it.

ESPN recently announced it is furloughing (a.k.a., “dismissing”) 300 people and not hiring 200 people for which it has had open positions. 500 people who have lost or who won’t get a job. Which is about 10% of its staff.

Given the decline of the fortunes of other companies in other industries (e.g., Delta Airlines has lost $22.4-billion through the third quarter of 2020—billion), the decline at ESPN is clearly not of the same magnitude.

But it is telling that a brand name in the entertainment sphere is hurting, largely, one guesses, because there are fewer traditional, normal games occurring. And when there are schedules, there are sudden shifts as, say, college players and/or coaches have positive tests.

One company that is certainly now part of the fabric of the quilt that is the music industry is Live Nation, the company that promotes events and has venues, reported its Q3 2020 results: a decline of 95%–which is actually better than Q2, when it saw a 98% decline.

Live Nation says that it has lost $7.0-billion so far in 2020. That is a staggering figure, one that even makes Delta’s massive losses look not as bad.

Live Nation is working to achieve a cost reduction of $900 million this year.

Guess what that means.

In a statement to investors Live Nation Entertainment president and CEO Michael Rapino wrote, “Our sales and survey data tell us fan demand will be here when the time is right. . . . Our recent global survey indicates that 95% of fans are planning to return to live music events when restrictions are lifted, the highest point of confidence since the start of the pandemic.”

To be sure, it is important that a CEO assure investors that things will come out all right in the future—the phrase is usually “will come out all right in the end,” but that word is all-too fraught with concern nowadays.

And presumably, given the COVID fatigue that has set in across the board (at least for the 9.7-million Americans who have been diagnosed to have contracted the virus and the 236,000+ who have died), if someone were to say to you: “Would you go to a concert when this is over?” odds are you’d proclaim “Yes!” Hell, if someone were to say to you, “Would you want to be in the room to watch the World Series of Poker?” you’d answer in the affirmative with gusto.

But then I wonder. To what extent are people going to feel comfortable getting back into crowds after “restrictions are lifted”?

There is a psychological toll that the pandemic has taken on all of us.

Think about this: It takes a few months to form a habit. We have all been modifying our behaviors to adapt to both legal restrictions as well as to social mores. We are going out and wearing masks. We are giving a swerve to people when we encounter them in the supermarket or on the street. We are putting on masks when we go out in public.

This is not to say that habits can’t be broken—some all too readily—but that there is certainly going to be a part of us—something wired into our synapses—that is going to make us reticent to be among crowds, whether it is at a football stadium, on an airplane or in a music venue.

Do we “want to”? Yes. Will we? I’m not so sure.

 

Photo featuring cardboard “fans” by Carlos Osorio / AP.

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