The ESPN Debacle: What Was At First Unimaginable In Now Business Fact

Back in 2015 I wrote an article titled “ESPN: Cutting The Cord Or Political Turn Off?”

At the time of that article not only did the business/financial media take my assertions to task, but so too did many in the sports media. The idea that ESPN™ (or any sports channel with such marquee talent and coverage) could be the recipient of any sort of backlash, especially via the political persuasion, was called on air by many as “Just ludicrous.”

Many even argued that any “political” view inserted into the discussion was actually seen as “good” or “helpful insight” into the player’s mindset at-large making them more personal with fans, rather than being simply superstars that can only be viewed from afar.

It all sounded so rational, so well thought out at the time. Problem was – it was all poppycock. And, we now have proof that the arguments I made back in 2015 when everyone from media analyst to next-in-rotation fund manager proclaimed such assertions as just “ludicrous” now appears to be business fact. And the resulting backlash has now forced the network to jettison some 100 employees including many of its own marquee on-air talent.

In my article (remembering this was in 2015 when even the idea of anything wrong at ESPN was seen as “not getting it” and came from all sides of the business and sports spectrum) I made the following point. To wit:

“However, is “cutting the cord” really the reason for ESPN’s loss of millions viewers? Or, is that the easiest crutch of an excuse for what might really be happening? After all, media is, and always will be, the king of “inflated” numbers. So much so I garner when a CEO of any media company reads a term like “double seasonally adjusted” they smirk and think – “Rookies.”

It’s just the way it has, is, and will be played; and everyone understands it. None more so than those within the business itself, which is why a few things struck me.

Why wouldn’t ESPN™ (or Disney™ its parent company) go to great efforts to include or push the narrative that “cord cutting” doesn’t necessarily mean “all” that cut have tuned off? In other words: why aren’t numbers from alternative viewing sources highlighted as to show they might not be viewing there – but they are over here? Unless – they aren’t.

And if they’re not – why not? After all, there’s probably no other content infringement policing company for copyright and other applicable ownership rights than Disney and all its subsidiaries. You aren’t going to see it for free or on alternative platforms unless they want or allow for it. Period.”

Well, there’s no reason to take my word for it, or my assumptions, because as of Thursday of this past week none other than ESPN anchor Linda Cohn of SportsCenter™ agreed reiterating my summations. Again, to wit:

“ESPN’s sweeping staff cuts are not just the result of ambitious TV rights deals and an overburdened budget, popular “SportsCenter” anchor Linda Cohn suggested Thursday.

The network may be losing subscriber revenue not just because of cord-cutting, Cohn allowed, but because viewers are increasingly turned off by ESPN inserting politics into its sports coverage.

“That is definitely a percentage of it,” Cohn said Thursday on 77 WABC’s “Bernie and Sid” show when asked whether certain social or political stances contributed to the stupor that resulted in roughly 100 employees getting the ax this week. “I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.””

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Oh wait…

I did in 2015.

© 2017 Mark St.Cyr