The blending of sports and politics has taken a stunning turn in the wake of the controversy over the national anthem protests.
After taking a hit in ratings due to Americans upset with NFL players protesting the anthem, one sports network has made a big move. According to Washington Examiner, ESPN has officially announced they will no longer air the national anthem.
ESPN has grown increasingly political, much to their viewers’ frustration.
Recently, the network suspended Jemele Hill, anchor of SportsCenter, nearly a month after she made tweets disparaging President Trump.
“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists,” Hill tweeted on September 11th. She tweeted a second time, stating, “Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.”
However, it wasn’t until Hill tweeted what appeared to be calls for a boycott, that ESPN took any action. After Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross issued statements requiring their players stand for the national anthem or else sit on the bench for games, Hill suggested a boycott of their advertisers.
The very next day, on October 9th, ESPN tweeted a statement on Hill’s suspension, citing “a second violation of our social media guidelines.” While it’s unclear what they considered the first and second violations, it’s very telling that they took immediate action after Hill’s call for a boycott. This suggests that ESPN considered disparaging remarks against the President acceptable, but disparaging remarks against NFL team owners and their advertisers were the unacceptable act sparking Hill’s suspension.
ESPN Sports Business Reporter, Darren Rovell, has been increasingly vocal on Twitter regarding political issues, even tweeting replies to President Trump’s tweets, or retweeting posts that portray Trump negatively, such as the 16 sports teams that have boycotted Trump hotels.
But viewers’ opinion of the network has been declining for quite some time now, long before Jemele Hill, or commentators’ opinions toward President Trump.
“ESPN … has been the highest profile casualty of the shift toward cheaper, internet TV products. The once-mighty sports network has dropped from a peak of more than 100 million subscribers in 2011 to fewer than 88 million today,” according to The Wrap.
According to Forbes, ESPN has seen sizeable losses in the past few years, losing nearly 13 million–13 percent–of television subscribers in the past six years. In 2015, ESPN saw a 7 percent drop in viewership, averaging 2.15 million viewers. In 2016, ESPN saw an 11 percent drop, averaging 1.91 million viewers. SportsCenter lost $103 million in ad revenues in the first six months of 2017 when compared to the same period in 2016.
ESPN has officially announced they will no longer air the national anthem. Is their business fading away?
Bloomberg reported that “the glory days are over for ESPN. Instead of making the $6.4 billion it earned in 2014, it’ll soon be earning $2 billion or less. Iger, or his successor, will have to decide whether to invest in it or to let it hobble along in its diminished shape.” Rich Greenfield, an investor with BTIG, told Bloomberg, “ESPN is in secular decline.”
Increasingly tough times are ahead for ESPN as ad revenue, subscribers, and viewership all decline. The trend to digital products and services — as well as ESPN alienating viewers — will continue aiding that decline.
Considering the NFL has steadily lost ratings since the anthem protests began, and is now considered the least favorite among major league sports, ESPN’s move to stop airing the national anthem is likely to infuriate viewers and cause similarly drastic consequences. Given the network’s already fragile and declining state, the loss of viewership could be devastating to them.