Is the Worldwide Leader looking over its shoulder? Two months after laying off hundreds of staffers and five weeks before the launch of Fox’s rival sports network, ESPN saw its second-quarter ratings plunge compared with last year. Sports Business Daily reports that the Disney-owned sports behemoth saw a 32% ratings dive for the April-to-June period versus the same period in 2012. The discrepancy is due in part to the network’s rotten luck with a little-watched NBA Western Conference Finals — the San Antonio Spurs’ sweep/beatdown of the Memphis Grizzlies — compared with its airing of the thrilling 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, in which the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics in seven games. But the bad news gets worse: ESPN also posted its lowest total-day numbers since the George W. Bush administration, down 20% to an average of 715K viewers on a 24-hour basis. The depressed numbers come despite record viewership for The Masters in April and near-record tune-in for the NBA Draft. But Credit Suisse analyst Michael Senno is upbeat about ESPN going forward; he reiterated his “outperform” recommendation for Disney shares this week and raised his target price for the stock by $1 to $74. Football will be a salve for the recent burns in the late summer and fall, when ESPN starts airing NCAA games and NFL Monday Night Football. But before that, on August 17, Fox Sports 1 will take the field — and Wall Street predicts that it will be a winner. The News Corp-owned 24-hour sports net plans to announce its pending arrival in a big way next week with a 90-second ad during Fox’s coverage of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Call it a brushback pitch.
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