The NFL and ESPN alike have suffered significant declines in viewership and subscriptions after the NFL’s national anthem protest controversy and ESPN’s increasingly politicization of sports coverage. After the latest disrespectful remark made by an ESPN analyst, they might just face further losses.
ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt joined Jimmy Traina’s Off The Board podcast, during which Van Pelt launched an attack against patriotic Americans who choose to boycott the NFL or ESPN. As Sports Illustrated reported, Van Pelt stated that if “they decide, ‘you know what, I’m gonna cut my entire cable package because ESPN gave an award on a made-up show in July because there’s no sports, to a woman who used to be a man, so I’m now not gonna have any cable TV at all and I’m gonna sit around at night and read books by candlelight like olden times because of that,’ that’s not happening. And if you did that, then you’re so dumb that I can’t even pray for you because you’re beyond hope.”
Van Pelt’s comments come from his apparent frustration that some have called ESPN a “sinking ship.” He refers to those people as uneducated and “dumb.” The comments are a troubling sign of disrespect against his viewers — and Americans overall.
Van Pelt, one of ESPN’s top anchors, hosts the midnight edition of SportsCenter, which is consistently a top program among male viewers aged 18-34 and has 20 percent more total viewers year-over-year. This is a stark contrast from the overall performance of the network, however.
Since 2011, ESPN lost approximately 12.6 million household subscribers. The network also increased subscriber costs to cable and satellite companies, moving from $4.69 per subscriber in 2011, to $7.21 per subscriber in 2017 — a 54 percent increase. It is now the most expensive cable network.
ESPN continues to lose almost 7,000 subscribers daily, despite the typical trend of increasing subscribers due to football season, and rival networks’ rise in subscribers. ESPN’s parent company, Disney, reported third-quarter losses of their cable networks — much of which ESPN comprises — of $1.46 billion, a 23 percent decline in profits.
The losses have forced the network to reallocate employees and resources to remain competitive.
Sources revealed to Sports Illustrated that ESPN plans to lay off more than 100 employees after Thanksgiving, including “front-facing talent on the television side, producers, executives, and digital and technology staffers.”
This follows at least 300 layoffs in October 2015, and 100 more journalist and on-air talent layoffs in April 2016, including long-time hosts, including Ed Werder, Danny Kanell, Len Elmore, Jayson Stark, Trent Dilfer and Brett McMurphy. Elmore had one of the longest tenures at ESPN, his layoff occurring after 21 years with the network.
Laying off 500 employees in just two years isn’t exactly indicative of a thriving organization.
Despite these losses and layoffs, Van Pelt seems to believe that his own positive experiences mean the network is in excellent health. He said, “it’s only in this make believe space on the Internet. Not once in my whole life has anybody come up to me in an airport or at a game or at a bar or at a grocery store or at a restaurant or anywhere on earth, not once, and said to me, ‘ESPN sucks, you suck, your show sucks. I can’t stand you.’ Not one time. Never.”
Van Pelt recently agreed to a “multi-year” deal with ESPN, likely making him naively comfortable with his position at the network. “I got a nice little deal here and it’s amazing, every couple of weeks the direct deposit is right there and I’m thankful and that’s going to continue,” he said.
ESPN has a history of cutting veteran talent with one and two decades with the network. Despite what Van Pelt may believe, his 16-year career and contract renewal with ESPN doesn’t give him immunity to losing his own job. If ESPN subscribers and revenues continue to decline, Van Pelt may very well find himself the victim of future layoffs. That may come sooner than he thinks if he continues to denigrate patriotic Americans.