ESPN is earning a reputation as a left-wing sports network.
Are the far-left politics of many of the channel’s on-air personalities, as well as the left-wing editorial bent of the network, damaging the company’s brand?
New numbers say the answer is “yes” and it may have devastating consequences for the channel.
Over the last three years, ESPN has lost 9 million subscribers.
This put a serious dent in the network’s bottom line.
And it’s hurting the parent company Disney, which is about to see its shares turn in their worst performance since 2008.
Bloomberg reports on ESPN’s woes and how it could lead to a sale by Disney:
“Back in May, I wrote that a breakup of Disney may be his answer. Separating ESPN (or the media networks division altogether) could not only help lift the company’s sagging valuation, but also make it a little easier to find a successor. Recall that Tom Staggs, the Magic Kingdom’s heir apparent, abruptly stepped down as chief operating officer earlier this year. And former CFO Jay Rasulo, the other possible pick, quitin 2015.
Since then, ESPN has continued to weigh on Disney’s results as the NFL struggles to keep viewers. A Nielsen report showed that ESPN, ESPN 2 and ESPNU lost more than 600,000 subscribers from October to November. ESPN’s NFL ratings have suffered a 17 percent decline this season, according to Nielsen data as of last week. Separately, Disney’s ABC network is faring the worst among the top broadcasters, with ratings down 11 percent for the season as of Nov. 9 versus a year ago.
Last month, billionaire John Malone — the dealmaker of all media dealmakers — speculated that Disney may spin off or sell ESPN, along with maybe ABC. He then went so far as to say Apple Inc. may be interested in merging with Disney after the split. The Edge, which analyzes spinoffs, has written about a Disney breakup, too, noting that the media networks and the rest of Disney “lack sufficient synergies and have vastly different outlooks and business model challenges.”
Cord-cutting – which is occurring – is one explanation for ESPN’s plummeting ratings and declining profits.
But ESPN is also alienating their viewers.
ESPN’s ombudsman, Jim Brady, penned a column wondering if the network had drifted too far to the left.
Three instances that infuriated Americans who support traditional values were when the Arthur Ashe award was given to Bruce Jenner after his surgery to become transsexual, the network airing homosexual football player Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend and smearing cake on his face after he was selected with one of the last picks in the NFL draft, and lastly, ESPN deciding to move a golf tournament away from a club owned by Donald Trump after the media smeared his immigration remarks as “racist.”
Brady also wrote:
“Many ESPN employees I talked to — including liberals and conservatives, most of whom preferred to speak on background — worry that the company’s politics have become a little too obvious, empowering those who feel as if they’re in line with the company’s position and driving underground those who don’t.
“If you’re a Republican or conservative, you feel the need to talk in whispers,” one conservative ESPN employee said. “There’s even a fear of putting Fox News on a TV [in the office].”
But Jemele Hill, co-host of ESPN2’s His & Hers, isn’t buying that. “I would challenge those people who say they feel suppressed,” she said. “Do you fear backlash, or do you fear right and wrong?”
One liberal ESPN contributor sees the issue as one not of inclusion but of exclusion, saying, “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.”
ESPN also angered conservatives when it fired baseball analyst Curt Schilling for posting a meme on his personal Facebook page defending the rights of businesses to keep men out of the women’s bathroom.
While there are other factors at play, it’s hard to deny that ESPN’s hard-left turn has cost them subscribers.
And the mounting financial losses piling up from the growing number of cancellations are going to have a profound impact on the network and TV sports landscape.