For the worldwide leader in sports that loves to cover epic team collapses (i.e. the 2004 New York Yankees), it’s kind of hard to stomach their own collapse in ratings.
ESPN, the sports broadcasting giant, suffered it’s worst ratings performance in years after 2016 numbers rolled in. While sports fans, particularly football fans, knew that the NFL would suffer a ratings drop due to a Colin Kaepernick-led protest of the national anthem, some were unsure how the network as a whole would perform.
While ESPN led all sports networks in ratings, it saw a nine percent drop in each prime time and total-day viewership year-to-year.
According to Nielsen Media Research, ESPN’s top program “Monday Night Football” averaged a nine-year low for the 2016 NFL season, and down 12 percent from its previous year (11.4 million in 2016 vs. 12.9 million in 2015). Additionally, due to the 2016 presidential election, the sports network lost its primetime crown to Fox News Channel by over half a million viewers (2.466 million to 1.95 million).
While the election had an impact on skewed ratings across the board, many are blaming ESPN for pandering to liberals and injecting left-wing politics into their coverage and events where it may not be necessary.
In 2015, viewers criticized the network’s decision to give Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage award for transitioning from a man to a woman. At the 2016 ESPY’s, NBA superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony opened the awards show to discuss the recent police shootings of African-Americans.
“We stand before you as fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, uncles, and in my case, as an African-American man and the nephew of a police officer, who is one of the hundreds of thousands of great officers serving this country,” Chris Paul said. “But Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile — this is also our reality.”
The final straw with conservative viewers, however, may have been when Curt Schilling, a vocal conservative and baseball analyst, was fired from ESPN for a series of controversial social media posts in April 2016.
These decisions by the sports network bring up a lot of questions over who’s running the show.
ESPN’s president John Skipper has embraced hiring individuals from all walks of life, telling public editor Jim Brady, “It is accurate that the Walt Disney Company and ESPN are committed to diversity and inclusion. These are long-standing values that drive fundamental fairness while providing us with the widest possible pool of talent to create the smartest and most creative staff. We do not view this as a political stance but as a human stance. We do not think tolerance is the domain of a particular political philosophy.”
However, some employees think their definition of “diversity” is short-sighted. Longtime ESPN anchor Bob Ley hit the nail on the head by saying, “We’ve done a great job of diversity, but the one place we have miles to go is diversity of thought.”
Even liberal employees understand that thought discrimination and exclusion has been the culture at ESPN, where one anonymous contributor said, “I’m concerned about the inclination for condemnation rather than conversation when unpopular ideas are spoken. I’m glad to see athletes acting as activists again. But it should be clear that in almost all cases they’re not taking risky stances… What about athletes and commentators who don’t swim that way, whether the issues are gay rights, transgender rights or opposition to abortion? ESPN has an issue — not a mess, but an issue — with saying it wants to stay apolitical but also actively promoting itself as a progressive platform.”
Well, if ESPN continues down this path of left-wing pandering, they’ll definitely have a mess on their hands.