ESPN political content has caused an erosion in viewership among Republicans across the country, a TV audience ratings service claims in a report about audience partisanship.
According to Deep Root Analytics, right-leaning viewers are bailing on the self-named Worldwide Leader in Sports as it delved more into social issues from a liberal/progressive perspective.
Late last month, ESPN laid off about 100 public-facing employees, including on-air anchors, commentators, and website writers, because of red ink, and the expectation is that more layoffs are on the horizon.
The Disney-owned ESPN is on the hook for $7 billion-$8 billion in telecast rights fees to the NFL, NBA, MLB, and various college leagues this year alone amidst ongoing cord cutting and a reported ratings decline of 16 percent for whatever reason or combination of reasons. Through the end of 2016, Connecticut-based ESPN had lost about 12 million subscribers from a 100 million high in 2011 and is currently bleeding about 10,000 subscribers each day. Cable and satellite providers charge each customer $7 a month for the ESPN channels, so the loss of income for ESPN is massive.
Deep Root Analytics maintains that across 43 markets, and even including the big U.S. liberal cities, the ESPN audience became five percent less Republican in 2016 over 2015, but the most dramatic change was felt on ESPN News, “whose audience became 36% less Republican and more Democratic.”
The data firm offered this summary of its findings.
“Certainly ESPN’s problems are not purely a result of Republican viewers turning off the network. But with this larger analysis, we do see a clear national trend that ESPN is losing Republican viewers, including in major markets…Given ESPN’s own admission that it has become more political — and on-the-record comments from ESPN talent saying that the network’s liberal nature is likely driving away viewers — this problem appears to be largely self-inflicted at a time when the network cannot afford to lose any more of its audience.”
In an essay on the ESPN website, published in December 2016, public editor (i.e., ombudsman) Jim Brady conceded that the network has moved in a leftward direction with its non-game, chat show programming, alienating some viewers who just want to watch games or game highlights and escape from politics. In a more recent tweet, Brady asserted that ESPN’s financial challenges are mainly result of cable unbundling, but politics also factored into it as a secondary cause.
Fox Sports hosts Jason Whitlock and Clay Travis have been at the forefront in scolding ESPN for providing a political megaphone for the left, including its extensive coverage of the Colin Kaepernick take-a-knee National Anthem protest and its aftermath.
Travis — a lawyer who describes himself as a radical moderate who has never voted for a Republican — has been specifically critical of the ESPN business model for overpaying for rights fees while becoming the social justice warrior network, with the resulting departure of a significant chunk of the audience.
On his Outkick the Coverage website, Travis summarized his thoughts about the sports network that he has satirically renamed MSESPN, which is seeing subscribers head for the exits.
“My theory is that left wing politics have played a big role in that ratings decline. That is, ESPN is alienating its Republican voting audience by covering sports from a decidedly left wing perspective…Some in the media, almost all of whom are left wingers, by the way, disagree…For the record, I don’t have a problem with sports in politics when it is impossible to avoid. What I have a problem with is doing sports in politics and only giving the left wing opinion. I think many sports media stations, sites, and papers are guilty of doing exactly that.”
Travis also insists, as has Whitlock, that sports fans tend to more conservative than non-sports fans, on average, and if accurate, further calls into question the current programming content approved by ESPN executives.
If you are an ESPN fan, are you watching it more, less, or about the same, and does politics play a role?
[Featured Image by Jessica Hill/AP Images]
Added: In an appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight (see clip below), Jason Whitlock opined about ESPN that “Cord-cutting has a lot to do with their subscriber and viewership loss, but the animosity and some of the viewership loss I do think is the direct result of their lurch to the left and injecting progressive victimology into the sports conversation.”