During our Millennial Round Table discussion on radio, one of the co-hosts noticed on his phone that ESPN was laying off 100 people. At the time, I thought there were probably at least two reasons for this executive decision. First, millennials aren’t as likely to watch ESPN since they feel they can get anything they need for free from the Internet. And second, many people have turned off ESPN because their left-wing politics is turning them off. These were two of the major reasons for the layoffs.
The economic reasons for ESPN’s troubles have to do with the fact that many (not just millennials) are cutting the cord for cable. The sports network has lost 12 million subscribers. Also, ESPN overpaid for broadcast rights, which has become a huge problem since many subscribers have left and others stopped watching. Paying too much while you are losing subscribers and have declining ratings is the major reason for the layoffs.
But in addition to the economic reason is a political reason. ESPN executives and on-air talent came to the wrong conclusion that bringing political discussions into the network would improve ESPN’s ratings. That is not what sports viewers wanted. Clay Travis put it this way, “Middle America wants to…listen to sports talk, they don’t want to be lectured about why Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, Michael Sam in the new Jackie Robinson of sports, and Colin Kaepernick is the Rosa Parks of football.”
Sean Davis explained the viewers’ frustration: “You want to watch the Lakers game? Okay, but first you’re going to hear about Caitlyn Jenner. Want some NFL highlights? We’ll get to those eventually, but coming up next will be a discussion about how North Carolina is run by racist, homophobic bigots.”
It wasn’t a smart move to try to turn ESPN into MSNBC with sports added. Viewers wanted to watch sports not be lectured about left-wing politics.