ESPN is in an abysmal state right now. There isn’t a single saving grace for the fledgling sports network. It lectures viewers about leftist causes. Its reporters throw out inane questions – an ESPN journalist asked the Boston Red Sox closer on Sunday night: “Craig, when you throw the ball, are you throwing it as hard as you can?” It obsesses over New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge.
And viewers are tuning out in huge numbers: ESPN has lost millions of cable television viewers and, as a result, billions of dollars in revenues, over the last three years.
The Social Justice Sports Channel is now tossing a Hail Mary pass on the Internet.
Last week, Disney, the parent company of ESPN, announced that it is going over-the-top (OTT) and parting ways with Netflix in favor of their own on-demand ESPN streaming service. Wall Street has mixed feelings about the move – some financial analysts contend that Disney may not recuperate lost money by going online, while others say that Disney has a treasure trove of content to ape Netflix’s business model.
When it comes to ESPN, though, it certainly won’t be a multi-billion-dollar juggernaut like it was in 2014.
There are two major obstacles for ESPN to overcome. First, an online streaming service will not generate enough money as it would with cable; Disney is paid more than seven dollars per subscriber for ESPN by cable companies. Second, the ESPN app is already garnering criticism.
Today, ESPN spends approximately $7 billion to acquire rights to air professional sports. Fewer subscribers and fewer revenue dollars means that it will take a toll on the company to broadcast sporting events. Disney CEO Bob Iger will need to determine if he wants to continue investing in ESPN programming or cut back on games to save money.
Bloomberg’s Joe Nocera made an interesting point:
I’ve been in the magazine and newspaper business my whole working life. I’ve watched the same forces diminish my industry. My former employer, the New York Times, has millions more viewers and subscribers than it ever did when print reigned supreme. Yet it is barely profitable, because the internet destroys a media company’s advertising base and the Times can’t charge subscribers as much as it could charge when readers were buying the dead tree version.
There’s a plethora of problems that ESPN needs to overcome, and it isn’t just its business model. ESPN needs to acknowledge its bias.
For years, ESPN has been shoving its liberal opinions down the throats of its audience. In June, a survey conducted by Langer Research Associates for ESPN found that 63% of respondents noticed a liberal slant on the network, which could explain why conservative viewers are fleeing the channel.
Moreover, let’s face it, the left generally doesn’t like sports – they require hard work, teamwork, athleticism, reward, competition, etc. – and the sports they do like won’t be saving ESPN from pecuniary ruin. According to Mike Shannon and Will Feltus from Scarborough Research Data, the only major North American sport that Democrat voters generally enjoy (other than soccer) is the NBA, while Republicans tend to favor the NFL, NHL, MLB, college football, NASCAR, the PGA Tour and the Olympics. Should ESPN spotlight these sports on any OTT device, it may need to either go back to being silent on politics or just duct tape the mouths of anchors so they refrain from sermonizing on the growing number of genders or how much they hate President Donald Trump.
Simply put: a large portion of ESPN’s audience – day or night – has been Republican or conservative/libertarian. Out of self-preservation, ESPN needs to avoid talking politics and return to discussing the x’s and o’s, statistics and immaculate plays.
Under the current model, cable TV subscribers are forced to subsidize ESPN as well as a plethora of other channels they never watch. With hundreds of thousands of Americans cutting the cord, consumers are now being more selective in how they spend their money. These same individuals will learn that there are so many options out there. The market will resume adapting and innovating, causing the ESPNs and the CNNs of the world into panic mode.
Earlier this year, an ESPN screencap went viral: it featured a headline advertising Stephen A. Smith, host of “First Take,” soon to talk about his thoughts “on love and lasagna.” As Reddit users exclaimed, no wonder ESPN is losing viewers. The Internet will not rescue ESPN from the pits of obscurity; they can only be saved by appealing to the actual thing that leads sports fans to tune in: love of the game.
Have you stopped watching ESPN? Let us know in the comments section below!