Ever a glutton for punishment, ESPN is not ready to change its self-defeating ways. Dramatic losses in business and the jettisoning of 100 employees last week are only leading to continued defiance.
After the mass layoff of April 26, James Freeman writes in the Wall Street Journal that the controversial sports network promises to keep lecturing those who remain, despite a loss of 12 million customers in six years.
Freeman writes that “sports fans nationwide are hoping that perhaps the cable network will once again consider offering the coverage that made them watch in the first place.” However, this appears unlikely, for the seismic settling after the ESPN "quake" is still not over. Surviving employees had their salaries slashed, and the problems in place before April 26 continue to rumble.
The entire cable TV industry is under pressure, Freeman notes. For ESPN, “the cost for sports content continues to rise, putting pressure on the sports giant’s bottom line.”
Among the other huge rumblings shaking ESPN’s core is political activism, which is alienating many viewers. This is not only an external charge. Long-time ESPN anchor Linda Cohen spoke directly about the layoffs and the rejection of the network’s politics in a recent interview she did on WABC Radio’s Bernie and Sid show: “That is definitely a percentage of it. I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”
According to Freeman, Cohn agreed that some sports fans disapproved of the way ESPN covered polarizing figures such as Colin Kaepernick and Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. ESPN gave Jenner its Arthur Ashe Award for Courage simply for identifying as a woman. Many people believed it was a politically motivated sham, throwing a bone to the LGBT movement at the expense of more deserving people. Marathon runner Noah Galloway had lost an arm defending liberty in Iraq, and former college basketball player Lauren Hill had died of cancer.
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Then Freeman explained the results of a viewership study with devastating results for ESPN. It was done by the firm Deep Root Analytics, which discovered a highly damaging trend eroding ESPN.
Deep Root analyzed viewership data in Cincinnati for the entire years of 2015 and 2016. In the first year, the ESPN audience on average included 12 percent more Republicans for early news, late fringe and overnight and an audience that was 21 percent more Republican than Democratic for early morning.
Then in 2016 – a presidential election year – the audience changed dramatically. ESPN’s daytime programming dropped to a 2-percent Republican majority. Late fringe and overnight programming then became 10 percent and 12 percent more Democratic than Republican – remarkable shifts of 22 and 28 points respectively. Shifts as in significant losses of viewers.
This damaging and drastic viewership loss data goes hand-in-hand with Fox Sports’ assertion of “MSESPN” as a reflection of the sports network resembling the radical leftism of MSNBC.
Noting that ESPN’s new guidelines loosen restraints for on-air talent regarding politics and culture, Freeman comments, “One has to wonder how long sports fans will tolerate paying heavy subscription fees for a sports channel that promises to mention sports ‘whenever possible.’”
ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady acknowledges “derision by some fans,” but unwisely adds “ESPN has made it clear: It’s not sticking to sports.”
It has become impossible for most of the news networks to cover politics fairly from the 50-yard line, and ESPN’s position is definitely first-and-goal for all things Left. Driving home the bias at ESPN, Freeman’s closing argument is ESPN’s recent poetry tribute to a woman convicted of killing a police officer. The network realized it made a colossal mistake and deleted the poetry, but it had shown its true ugly leftist colors.
ESPN will spite its customers’ viewing tastes at its own peril. More and more of them are tuning out and turning away. And right now, things are looking pretty bleak in Bristol, where the self-inflicted wounds are mounting up.