ESPN’s bottom line has been hurt by the expensive broadcast fees it pays to air live sports, coupled with an increasing number of “cord-cutters”, typically younger viewers opting out of cable or satellite fees in favor of less expensive entertainment options, like NetFlix, Amazon Video, or Hulu. But ESPN has also remade itself into a highly politicized network, and now its starting to affect business.
They obsessed over Michael Sam, a late round, and mediocre defensive tackle, because he was openly gay. They awarded Caitlyn Jenner their “Arthur Ashe Courage Award” in 2015 to promote transgender issues, in spite of the fact that Jenner’s last foray into the sports world was nearly 4 decades old. They could have chosen Lauren Hill, a 19 year old freshman college basketball player, who managed to get on the court, in spite of an inoperable brain tumor, before she lost her bout with cancer. But nope, trandgenderism and being “woke” won the day. Jemele Hill, who regularly offers her (left-wing) political opinions on twitter, was promoted to be a co-host of the flagship edition of SportsCenter. When baseball analyst Curt Schilling offered his conservative (e.g. non-standard) opinions, and supported Donald Trump, he was suspended and eventually fired. You aren’t going to have an interesting debate on Colin Kaepernick’s flag stance, when the “right” opinion gets you promoted, and the “wrong” opinion gets you fired. You don’t have to love every Curt Schilling tweet to be bothered by this double-standard.
It is not just that they have politicized a venue that we use to flee from politics, they have done so in a way that vilifies a majority of their audience. Unlike a political opinion venue, where the on-air talent live and breath politics (to a fault) the sports personalities are often not that well informed about the subject matter, and the idea that anyone would disagree with their analysis is treated as shocking. When a sports journalist offers up some misinformed analysis of current events, its usually prefaced by a cheap disclaimer, like “I don’t want to get political, but…” The implication being that their opinions are so righteous, so inscrutable, that they simply had a moral obligation to decry the most recent cut to the long-term capital gains rate, or whatever the cause du jour may be. When challenged, the response is, once again, “I don’t want to get political.” They don’t want to engage in a political debate. They want to take pot-shots at those they disagree with, and then duck under the cover of “I’m just here to talk basketball.”
So viewers are leaving. Is this part of the broader, cord-cutting culture? Of course. But if you are already on the fence about continuing to pay an expensive cable bill, and ESPN’s live sports is the only tether holding you back, ESPN’s political hackery makes that decision easier.
But left wing sports media doesn’t want to learn from this:
Reading Twitter responses about ESPN layoffs, it occurs to me a lot of sports fans really don't like anyone who stands up for civil rights.
Just as the Democrats want to blame James Comey, Vladimir Putin, the Electoral College for their 2016 debacle, ESPN will ignore the voice of consumers who are growing weary of their product. For politicians and media organizations that are culturally insulated from their audience, the only ways flyover state America can give them feedback is through an election, and through our wallets. Both Democrats, and ESPN (but I repeat myself) seem intent on closing their ears to the message.