American sports fans cry foul as ESPN yanks Israeli broadcasts
ESPN says decision to cease broadcasting across Middle East and Africa is 'strategic business decision,' and will focus instead on digital syndication.
American sports channel ESPN will cease broadcasting in Israel at the end of the month, the television network announced Monday. Israel's cable and satellite providers, HOT and YES, confirmed the news.
In a statement, ESPN said it had decided to stop broadcasting across the Middle East and Africa. "This was a strategic business decision made by ESPN," the statement said. "At this point in time, ESPN will focus on its digital and content syndication businesses in the EMEA [Europe, the Middle East and Africa] region."
The announcement comes as a blow to local fans of American sports - including football and baseball, which are not widely broadcast in Israel - and of the network's popular news and analysis programs, including "SportsCenter" and "Pardon the Interruption."
"This really, really upsets me," said Tel Aviv resident and sports fan Assaf Gvili, when informed about the decision on Sunday night. "We don't have many options to watch American football in Israel, and that's really the only thing I like to watch. On Sport 5, they show one game a week, but it's not enough - and usually it's not a good game."
Several viewers said they would consider cancelling their cable subscriptions as a result of ESPN's move.
"It's the main reason I got the YES package," said Tennessee native Elan Neiger. "There will be less holding me back from canceling now." He said he will adapt by watching more games online.
Juan Iglesias, owner of the Mike's Place restaurant and sports bar on Dizengoff Street, said all Mike's Place franchises will continue to broadcast sporting events carried by ESPN because they receive the network's American feed via satellite. However, "on a personal level, it sucks," he said. "I like to wake up in the morning and watch 'SportsCenter.'"
Shai Nemes, a native of Dallas and A diehard Cowboys fan, criticized ESPN for filling its schedule with less popular sports like bass fishing and Nascar racing.
"In the States, I'd always be watching ESPN," Nemes said. Since immigrating to Israel four years ago and subscribing to HOT, he said he had not watched the network nearly as much, "because there's one ESPN channel on HOT and the stuff they put on is not appealing to me."
ESPN is the second major American network to disappear from HOT in recent years. The cable operator decided not to renew its contract with CNN International in 2011, while YES continues to carry the news network.