ESPN: The Dying Sports Network
In a long post entitled ESPN must prove commitment to journalism in wake of recent talent cuts, ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady makes the case for the dwindling ESPN subscriber base. In his opinion, the losses are mostly due to ‘cord-cutting’ whereby cable subscribers have increasingly ditched the high-priced, fluff-filled cable packages for streaming options like Netflix, Hulu, etc.
Mr. Brady then spends a considerable amount of time explaining that the decline of the network is not due to its calculated wade into politics nor its leftward stance, which is acknowledged in the piece. In fact he states that even though many subscribers may disagree with the sports network’s political slant, they really have no recourse due to ESPN blanket purchase of many sports rights. From the article:
Sports rights also work as a bulwark against those who have walked away from ESPN because of culture coverage and politics. Whatever a fan thinks of ESPN writ large, most will likely tune in to the network when their team is playing on Monday Night Football or any other ESPN broadcast. That’s the beauty of owning sports rights: In a media world in which choice is almost endless, major televised sports events aggregate millions of viewers -- including live digital streams -- and advertisers pay a heavy premium to reach them.
Since they embrace a liberal stance, about 50% of their audience is potentially shunned. Time will tell if this type of hubris will ultimately hasten the network’s demise. For now we can continue to watch ESPN whistle past the graveyard while the inevitable collapse around them occurs. Who knows, maybe Carlos Slim or Jeff Bezos may be willing to take ESPN off Disney’s hands.
The reality is that although ESPN used to be the Essential Sports Programming Network, now it is just a floundering relic of the cable TV golden age combined with the exhausting ‘politics as news cycle’ that has polluted the ‘News’ business of CBS, NBC, NY Times, Washington Post, etc. It will be interesting to see who will be dropping coins in the collective cups of professional athletes in the coming century. Will professional sports as a multi-millionaire career for the athletically gifted be a thing of the past? Perhaps pro sports will resemble a scene from Interstellar by Christopher Nolan whereby the famed New York Yankees are reduced to a mere farm league playing in front of a few dozen spectators. Impossible? Maybe not.