By Alex Kuhn
Sports Editor 

Hear me out...Has ESPN's drift to the left cost them viewers?

 

May 13, 2017



Move over peanut butter and chocolate because a new combination has stolen the hearts of all Americans, sports and politics are the new “it combo.”

I kid of course.

Me personally I don’t mind the intersecting of the two worlds. I like to hear the thoughts of athletes and coaches on the current political events. I just wish more conservative leaning athletes would share their thoughts to balance things out. By conservative I mean actual conservatives, like Tom Brady or Karl Malone, not the bonkers people like Curt Schilling whose main source of news I believe is InfoWars.

When it comes to politics balance is the best course of action.

But this is beside the point.

A few weeks ago, the worldwide leader in sports, ESPN, had to layoff sizeable list of their on-air and print talent. Recognizable names like Jay Crawford, Ed Warner and Marc Stein were free agents due to ESPN scaling back because profits have taken a dive this decade.

Once the news started breaking and those laid off were tweeting out their fates, people outside ESPN began kicking them while they were down and writing the network’s eulogy, most notably those at Fox Sports 1. The common criticism and reasoning why ESPN had the layoffs was because they drifted too far left and were now a liberal sports network. That’s why their ratings and subscribers have cratered.


Has ESPN moved slightly to the left?

Yes.

Is it main reason for the downsizing?

No.

Sure, ESPN has probably lost some eyeballs due to their over coverage of Michael Sam or Caitlyn Jenner. And many will point to the recent survey conducted by sports media consulting firm Barrett Sports Media that said 60.8 percent of respondents believe ESPN is left-leaning.

But that’s all the survey said. It didn’t state that the 60.8 group were turning off their TVs because ESPN leans to the left, just that they felt it leans left. Yet people still used that as their “evidence” that the network is losing viewers because of that lean.

I’m sure there are a small percentage of that 60.8 who turned off ESPN because of the left-lean but that wouldn’t require ESPN to layoff over a hundred of their on-air and print talent.

The reason for the layoffs is quite simple, cord-cutters have changed the TV network landscape.

We’ve all looked at our TV bill with the same question, “Why am I paying so much when I only watch 10 percent of the channels I have?”

Along with the DVR, the streaming services of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now have done what every new and emerging market does, and that’s disrupt the status quo.

Once those streaming services became viable and legit competitors people began to realize they could get rid of their cable providers at half the cost. Aren’t we all looking to save money?

The only reason I even have TV is because of live sporting events, if it wasn’t for that I would have sent my DISH receiver off long ago.

ESPN was a massive company and still is quite large. They wanted to be everywhere there were sports. They covered everything imaginable in every medium, whether it was TV, online, print, radio or podcast. They even had specific outlets devoted to covering sports in every major American city.


Remember in the early ‘00s when they kept adding channels like ESPN2 or ESPN NEWS and the running joke was they keep going with ESPN4 or ESPN 10. The movie “Dodgeball” had the best joke about ESPN’s success, using the premise that ESPN 8 “The Ocho” would cover the most obscure sporting events like a dodgeball tournament.

ESPN wanting to cover everything worked because they had the money to do so. But when people started getting rid of their cable providers during this decade and the money wasn’t flowing like it used to. It was inevitable they would have to scale things back.

While they did lose some viewers and their ratings plummeted as a result, ESPN is still the leading sports network in primetime and day ratings. For the 2017 first quarter ratings the top five sports networks, for both primetime and day, goes like so, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, NBCSN and FS1.

So while they’ve lost viewers they’re still king even if there is a jewel missing out of the crown.

Speaking of FS1 they’ve been a little too chirpy for a network that would kill for ESPN’s current ratings. Mostly from Jason Whitlock, who has been hired by ESPN twice. (A favorite columnist of mine when he isn’t spouting some ridiculous/trying too hard take about social media or ESPN.) He recently wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal claiming the network caved to the sports site Deadspin and began to adopt progressive values as a result.

Whitlock’s column goes hard after ESPN and Deadspin and while he has always been an advisory of Deadspin. This column felt very personal which could be due to the fact that his second stint at ESPN ended due in part to Deadspin. If you have the time Google it, it’s a long story that would take up too much time. So for as much as I like his writing, it’s very hard to take this seriously because of the history.

I’m not out here to say poor ESPN, I’ve been annoyed with them at times, like with their gushing over Tim Tebow even when it was evident that he wasn’t cut out for the NFL, and there are things they could do better, but to say they are a doomed network is ridiculous.

Absolutely, they’ve taken a hit in the ratings but you know who else has hemorrhaged viewers? Every other sports network from FS1 to the NFL Network.

And a lot of those networks are operating on a much smaller scale than the worldwide leader.

I do believe ESPN should encourage more of their conservative personalities to share their views. Not only is it fair but it brings a much needed balance. I know that the hard right and left people will be furious at the network for allowing whoever they view as the opposition to speak but those nerds are always upset about something. So who really cares what they get upset about?

ESPN has been the leader for all sports networks and making a move like this, along with figuring out something for the streaming market, would be bold and show everyone why they still rule the sporting world.

 
 

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