In November 2018, Disney, which owns ESPN, reported that the sports network had lost another two million subscribers, making a total decline of 14 million subscribers since 2011.
So was the problem that sports fans had all taken up knitting instead of tuning in for the latest commentary on their teams? Nope. It was, among other things, the network’s decision to stop airing the national anthem on “Monday Night Football” and comparing Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to a slaveholder.
Recognizing, perhaps too late that sports and social justice don’t mix, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro admitted in a Los Angeles Times profile this weekend that the hurt the network had been experiencing was the result of its largely left-leaning political sermons. “Without question our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics,” Pitaro confessed. “My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them.”
In other words, shut up and analyze the dribbling.
The Times also notes that Pitaro has addressed traditional fans of the network by “steering commentators away from political discussions,” something that heightened during the battle between the President and NFL players protesting the national anthem.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) May 20, 2019
Fans Don’t Want It
Prior to Pitaro assuming the reins in March of 2018, ESPN was suffering horrible ratings on both television and radio programming and the network was shedding employees – some of them prominent names – by the hundreds. Although numerous critics traced the problem to the network’s infusion of political opinion into its sports commentaries, ESPN continued to peddle politics. The situation came to a head in February 2019 when ex-commentator Jemele Hill joked about assassinating Donald Trump after the State of the Union address.
President Trump was a favorite target. ESPN blasted the legendary Tiger Woods over his friendship with Trump, mocking him as stupid and claiming “he’s not black.” Fans were even subjected to having a football announcer pulled from coverage of a University of Virginia game because of the crime of being named Robert Lee.
— PoliticalPOET (@POETreeOTIC) August 23, 2017
A top ESPN executive indicated in December of 2018 that the network’s pivot to political commentary was a “miscalculation,” something they had previously denied.
“I think we miscalculated a little bit,” the exec told the Washington Post. “The perception became that you could just roll a talent out there and it doesn’t matter what he or she is saying — that the content didn’t matter. I just never believed that.”
The network did believe it for a period of time, however. It’s good to see Pitaro steer them back to the core material that sports fans are seeking. Is it too little, too late?
Cross posted at the Mental Recession