One thing is clear. ESPN is losing large numbers of viewers every year. What is not so clear is the main reason for the loss of viewers. While many analysts believe that the phenomenon of “cord cutting” - the practice of cancelling expensive cable and satellite subscriptions in favor of other more inexpensive platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc. - is the primary reason, other analysts believe that as ESPN spends more of its programming time offering political commentary rather than simply airing the games and pure sports commentary the new focus is driving users away.
It seems like ESPN now devotes less airtime to Sportscenter’s Top 10 Plays and the actual games themselves than it does to news commentary of the political issue of the day. The trend is being followed by many in the sports business in an effort to diversify their product and broaden the appeal.
One of the most egregious examples of this “political football” was actually not aired on ESPN but on NBC Sports. But, it illustrates what is taking place on ESPN and other sports networks.
A few years ago on NBC Sports during a nationally televised NFL game, Bob Costas spent several minutes offering his political views regarding gun control in America. Rather than just tuning in to watch the game and spend a few hours escaping the reality of the mundane, viewers were “treated” to political commentary on a sensitive political issue.
The question becomes: Should a sports program really devote time to something that is not about the game? Are sports viewers tuning in for news commentary?
Apparently, many ESPN viewers are responding to that question in the negative. This is illustrated by the fact that many ESPN viewers are simply not watching the network anymore. If viewers were watching the network on alternative platforms, ESPN and its parent company Disney, would be sure to point that out.
But they are not.
Viewers are not tuning into the network on other services or alternative platforms, they simply are not viewing the network anywhere.
And while cord cutting is likely the reason many viewers are not viewing ESPN anymore, it is hard to ignore the fact that many viewers are not watching the network because of the near-constant news and commentary on issues such as domestic violence, gun control, and the like.
Not that these are not important issues - because undoubtedly they are.
But, watching a game, the highlights and the sports commentary related to the game is not as it used to be. Rather than spending a few hours going nuts over a team, escaping reality and becoming the best armchair quarterback ever, viewers are subject to the often depressing and draining politically charged news topics of the day.
So, it seems that viewers are not simply cutting the cord, they are tuning out altogether.