ESPN was once the unrivaled world leader in sports coverage and analysis. Its reporters traveled the globe following baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis, the Olympics, everything!
Sure, ESPN reporters continue to report on those events, but today their organization is collapsing amidst the tribulations of modernity. As I see it, modernity has posed two particular challenges for the sports giant.
ESPN's first problem has been the move of TV viewers to cheaper online viewing platforms. With younger viewers increasingly choosing to forgo expensive cable packages in favor of selective products like Netflix, ESPN has been left with big bills and not enough subscribers. Making matters worse, ESPN continues to charge existing subscribers an excessive premium for its product. Why does it do so? In part, because it must.
After all, ESPN has spent the last few years spending billions of dollars on broadcasting rights for a wide array of tournaments. Had they negotiated more effectively -- perhaps sacrificing one sport to disabuse other sports of their confidence in demanding astronomic broadcast fee payments -- ESPN could have reduced their front-end costs and offered lower subscriber rates.
Another problem is ESPN's overloaded commercial setup.
Were an alien watching ESPN, he or she would be forgiven for thinking the commercials were the main event! For sports fans who are already paying a premium, excessive commercials reek of corporate greed and serve as salt in the viewers wound. These days I can't even watch ESPN unless a game is taped or soccer (and thus immune to commercials). Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney (which owns ESPN) recently admitted: "That in general, there is probably too much commercial interruption in television." But as of yet, he hasn't taken action.
Regardless, until ESPN can figure out a way to shred costs and bring more subscribers back into play, it will keep dying as millions of Americans cancel their subscriptions each year.
So that's the first part of ESPN's modernity struggle. The second issue is the network's inability to deliver what its viewers want.
Today, ESPN remains a network infected by liberal distraction. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with liberal philosophy being expressed in any medium: Diversity of opinion is what makes America great.
But ESPN is not a news channel, it's a sports network. Still, whether it be the Washington Redskins, or Colin the kneeler Kaepernick, or superfluous comments on air, ESPN takes a tediously one-sided approach to politics. Indeed, ESPN seems proud of this. Speaking in 2016, ESPN CEO John Skipper defended his network's bias, saying ESPN is "committed" to "diversity and inclusion" and "view this not as a political stance but as a human stance." That sounds reasonable, but it is very thinly veiled code for "we are proud liberals."
Now assuming that at least half of ESPN's viewers are conservative (and I would venture the ration is higher), ESPN is acting idiotically. And it's only getting worse. Take the decision by ESPN this week to reassign commentator, Robert Lee, from a UVA football game because his name matches that of a certain former Confederate general. That said, the real story here is not that ESPN decided to redeploy Lee, but rather that his redeployment was even contemplated! What kind of editorial structure, or leadership would dance into such an oblivion of absurdity?
That of ESPN.
To survive, the sports broadcaster needs to get a grip. And as a first step, it needs new leadership.