ESPN has become a drag on the earnings of parent company Disney as cord-cutters unsubscribe in droves.
“A floundering ESPN, with rising costs and declining viewership, continued to sink Disney’s financial results during its fiscal first quarter,” MarketWatch noted.
With its movie franchises and theme parks, Disney is and should be doing fine, but the 1Q revenue was down 3 percent and profit plummeted 14 percent because of its sports media investment.
“The world-wide leader in sports lost subscribers, while average viewership and advertising rates declined and programming costs grew,” MarketWatch added.
Through the end of 2016, Bristol, Connecticut-based ESPN had lost about 12 million subscribers from a 100 million high in 2011.
“At an estimated $7 per subscriber, that dip has been a substantial hit to Disney, especially considering media networks made up 49 percent of Disney’s profits during fiscal 2016,” explained The Wrap about ESPN’s financial troubles.
Against this backdrop, in 2017 alone, the network is on the hook for $7 billion in broadcast rights fees to the NFL, NBA, MLB, and various college leagues. The NFL used to print money, but ratings were down this year substantially across the board, including NFL Monday Night Football on ESPN.
As subscribers head for the exit, Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis estimates ESPN has forfeited about $1.3 billion in the process, and so for this year it has lost 10,000 cable or satellite subscribers each day, in part because, in his view, the network made a calculated decision to veer far left.
In an essay posted at Outkick the Coverage, Travis argues that ESPN is tanking in the ratings generally because of an emphasis on political correctness and progressive political activism, thereby alienating 75 percent of the viewership who just want to watch sports, sports highlights, or discussions directly sports related.
“ESPN decided to become a social justice warrior network, treating all liberal opinion makers as those worthy of promotion and casting aside all those who had the gall to challenge the new Disney world order…I’m not saying that ESPN should just stick to sports, but I am saying that if you decide to allow political opinions to flourish from your network’s stars that you shouldn’t neuter all conservative opinion and allow liberal political opinion to advance unchecked….Those with liberal opinions are rewarded and allowed to speak freely, those with conservative opinions are told to keep their mouths shut…”
In the story, the Nashville-based Travis, an ex-lawyer who worked on Al Gore’s presidential campaign and voted for Obama twice, referred to ESPN as MSESPN, a play on MSNBC.
Former ESPN personality Jason Whitlock, who now co-hosts Speak for Yourself on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), has satirically renamed the network EPCN for similar reasons.
Parenthetically, FS1 has failed so far to provide a viable alternative to ESPN, but it did take the Fox Business Channel years before it finally surged past CNBC.
ESPN is also in the process of moving all of its signature opinion programming to its primary channel, leaving ESPN2 and its other platforms apparently in the lurch.
Travis, who describes himself as middle of the road politically, further expounded on this topic during a Periscope broadcast this week, which is partially NSFW for language (see embedded footage immediately below).
Travis also claims that many conservatives work for ESPN, including those in front of the camera, but they are too intimidated by the network culture to reveal their actual political views.
Like him or not, outspoken former Red Sox star Curt Schilling lost his baseball commentary gig on ESPN because of controversial social media activity that supposedly violated the company’s no-politics rule. Since then, however, ESPN seems have gone all-in on politics, starting perhaps with the extensive coverage of the Colin Kaepernick take-a-knee national anthem protest, and continuing with constant chatter about Super Bowl winner Tom Brady’s friendship with President Trump, which players on championship teams will or won’t visit the White House, and other such issues.
In December, ESPN itself seemed to acknowledge the politicization problem in a story by its ombudsman, Jim Brady.
“As it turns out, ESPN is far from immune from the political fever that has afflicted so much of the country over the past year. Internally, there’s a feeling among many staffers — both liberal and conservative — that the company’s perceived move leftward has had a stifling effect on discourse inside the company and has affected its public-facing products. Consumers have sensed that same leftward movement, alienating some…”
Ryan Russillo, co-host of Russillo and Kanell, which is simulcast on ESPN and ESPN Radio, recently suggested that most of his fellow sport talkers are becoming full-on social justice warriors rather than talking about last night’s game.
“I don’t know what the job is anymore…If I were doing the anti-Trump show three days a week, would I have 90% support from co-workers? Because that’s what it feels like right now,” he admitted.
[Featured Image by Bob Child/AP Images]