Jump to content

The Politics of ESPN


Recommended Posts

Full article:


The Politics of ESPN

As some viewers flee, the cable network promises to keep lecturing those who remain.

James Freeman
April 28, 2017 5:28 p.m. ET

ESPN became a cable-television giant by offering wall-to-wall sports, so naturally the channel has increasingly chosen to offer political commentary. In a remarkable coincidence, its viewership has been declining. ESPN’s shrinking audience triggered layoffs of about 100 employees this week. While this column wishes that Fox Butterfield could help make sense of all this, 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. 

To be fair, ESPN faces challenges well beyond its decision to imitate less successful cable channels. The whole industry is under pressure. As the Journal noted this week,

Like many cable networks, ESPN has been hit hard by consumers canceling expensive monthly pay-TV packages in favor of smaller packages or streaming services. Over the past five years, ESPN has gone from 99 million subscribers to 87.44 million, according to Nielsen data. At the same time, the cost for sports content continues to rise, putting pressure on the sports giant’s bottom line.
But there’s obviously something else going on at ESPN. The New York Post this week described a radio interview given by longtime ESPN anchor Linda Cohn:
The network may be losing subscriber revenue not just because of cord-cutting, Cohn allowed, but because viewers are increasingly turned off by ESPN inserting politics into its sports coverage.
“That is definitely a percentage of it,” Cohn said Thursday on 77 WABC’s “Bernie and Sid” show when asked whether certain social or political stances contributed to the stupor that resulted in roughly 100 employees getting the ax this week. “I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”
Cohn agreed with the argument that certain sports fans may have disapproved of the way ESPN covered polarizing figures such as Roger Goodell, Colin Kaepernick and Caitlyn Jenner.
The example used was of the 2015 ESPYs. Jenner, a former Olympic champion in the decathlon, won the prestigious Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for publicly coming out as a transgender woman. Some felt athletes suffering from disease or disability — such as college basketball player Lauren Hill, who died from cancer three months before the ceremony, and marathoner Noah Galloway, who lost an arm and a leg in the Iraq War — were more deserving.

Ms. Cohn’s comments carry weight, not just because she has been at the network for 25 years but also because she is beloved by many longtime viewers. Now along comes a firm called Deep Root Analytics, which has studied local television audiences for Republican politicians as well as commercial clients and says it has discovered a trend: 

We analyzed viewership data in a large media market in a swing state (Cincinnati, OH) for the entirety of 2015 and 2016. Also, to control for any changes in partisan identification between 2015 and 2016, Deep Root Analytics analyzed viewership among the same audiences across both years.
In our analysis, a clear trend emerges: ESPN’s viewership in this key swing state market became less Republican during 2016.
Specifically, in 2015, the ESPN audience on average skewed Republican across all dayparts, ranging from 12% more Republican (Early News, Late Fringe, Overnight) to 21% more Republican than Democratic (Early Morning).
In 2016, every daypart on ESPN became less conservative, with Daytime being only 2% more Republican than Democratic, while Late Fringe and Overnight programming became 10% and 12% more Democratic than Republican – a 22 and 28 point shift, respectively.
The same is true across other ESPN properties. ESPN2 skewed Republican across most dayparts in 2015; in 2016 all dayparts skewed Democratic. Every daypart also switched on ESPN News from 2015 to 2016.
Does ESPN think that perhaps it should lighten up on the politics? The channel seems to want to go even heavier. ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady recently wrote that the network has new guidelines that “loosen the restraints on commentary about politics and culture, though stressing that such discussion should connect to sports whenever possible.” 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.” 

Having a public editor, a sort of journalistic ombudsman, is of course strong evidence that what used to be a fun sports network is taking itself too seriously. And Mr. Brady acknowledges that times have changed:

I recently reviewed a few SportsCenter episodes from the past couple of decades, and it is indeed noticeable how little politics and culture intruded into the tsunami of highlights and witty banter that once marked that show. That was reflective of the overall newsier focus ESPN had in those days.

Is the strategy now for a product that is less witty and less newsy? Not surprisingly, “ESPN’s shift toward more cultural and political content,” admits Mr. Brady, “is noted with derision by some fans.” And no wonder, but the network is choosing not to listen to them. Mr. Brady concludes by instructing customers, “ESPN has made it clear: It’s not sticking to sports.”

For anyone who hasn’t been watching ESPN, we should note that when the network does politics, it doesn’t spot the ball on the 50-yard line. This week Bre Payton at The Federalist noticed a particularly radical offering: 

ESPN, the sports network that’s hemorrhaging viewers and purging much of its on-air talent, on Tuesday published a poetry tribute to a woman who was convicted of killing a police officer.

ESPN seems to have realized it went too far and has updated its story. An editor’s note on the piece now says:

An earlier version of “Five Poets on the New Feminism” featured Revolution by Dr. DaMaris Hill. We have decided it is not an appropriate selection for our site, and have removed it from the feature.

OK, make that four poets, but this column suspects that may still be four too many for consumers who showed up looking for sports.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Frick ESPN. Soon they will be showing nothing but Ping Pong and pool. Dumb bastards forgot sports were invented to keep our minds off of the important shit happening around us. When I watch the ESPY's I want to see my sports hero's. Not some frigging dude who decided to become a women.

Then you have time naming him as their women of the year? Are you frigging serious? If I was a women I would have been appalled.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

thanks for the story, Pal. 

Seems the right is attributing changing industry consumption, in one case, ESPN, to claimed liberal news. 

It might be partially true but this story and methodology is so flawed that it winds up being nothing but more left right political mud slinging. 


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

11 hours ago, 181pl said:

It's so flawed that ESPN has lost hundreds of millions recently and laid off 100 actors, I mean broadcast journalists.

You must be a Golf disciple.

I am not saying ESPN did or did not lose viewers because of politics. What I am saying is that making an assumption that this was the cause is ridiculous from the information in the story. 

We would need so much more data before we could draw this conclusion. 

First off, the entire industry is down. How much more is ESPN than the rest of the industry?

Is all sports cable down or just ESPN? As they are the biggest and first, is their decline directly paralleling the assent of other sports networks? ATT expects growth this year,  Verizon not. Can we find something political to claim this is due to "liberl politics.?" I am sure someone can make something up. 

All industries see this. Had Budweiser used Kaitlin Jenner  to promote their beer would that be the cause of their downward spiral? Obviously the wing nut right media would say so. But as that is not the case we can look more objectively and realize the likely reason is the assent of hard liquor and micro breweries.

But like I said, if we are dolts, like Golf, we simply go with our agenda and make ourselves believe it. 


Link to comment
Share on other sites

17 hours ago, noonereal said:

thanks for the story, Pal. 

Seems the right is attributing changing industry consumption, in one case, ESPN, to claimed liberal news. 

It might be partially true but this story and methodology is so flawed that it winds up being nothing but more left right political mud slinging. 


Really? In your kumbaya world I guess there is or should not be mudslinging? In my world I say crush the liberals in everything humanly possible. Watching ESPN slowly go down the tubes is a good thing IMO. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...