Pay-TV bundles that charge their customers for channels they never watch has long been one reason people say they hate their cable companies. Now a new survey says that more than half of cable customers would give up ESPN—the single biggest programming cost on a cable bill—if they could save $8 each month. 

The new study was conducted by a polling company called Civic Science, and described in a blog post by BTIG Research. Fifty-six percent of the respondents said they'd give up ESPN and ESPN2 to save money. The numbers varied by gender: Sixty percent of women were ready to pull the plug on the sports network, while the number among men was just 49 percent. The survey covered 1,582 consumers, of whom 87 percent currently subscribe to a multichannel pay TV service.  

Cable industry sources have long ball-parked that it would cost as much as $30 a month to get ESPN by itself if it ever became untethered from a pay TV bundle. In what is surely a bad sign for the company and its parent Disney, only 6 percent of the respondents said they'd pay even $20 a month for ESPN as a standalone channel. Last summer, the company reported it had lost about 7 million subscribers over the last two years.

Last year, a few new TV services, including Sling TV and Verizon's Custom TV, started offering ESPN as part of slimmed-down packages. But it was still part of what is essentially a programming bundle combined with other channels, not an a la carte service.

If you're a TV subscriber who has been paying for, but not watching, ESPN, then BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield probably summed up your feelings in this comment from his blog post: "Simply put, ESPN has been the largest beneficiary of the 'Big' cable bundle for decades and is now dramatically overearning, with consumers the biggest losers." 

And that's the kind of bad deal that is driving some people to cut the cable cord.