One struggles to put into proper perspective the sheer collapse that has befallen the “worldwide leader.” Yet, while the final numbers from 2016 start to come in, that perspective has started to take shape.
Like this, from the sports media site Awful Announcing, “ESPN remained the dominant sports cable network leader in 2016 despite a 9 percent drop in each prime time and total-day viewership year-to-year. Its top program “Monday Night Football” averaged a 9-year low for its season and was down 12 percent from its previous year (11.4 million vs. 2016’s 12.9 million). Due to the unprecedented 2016 presidential election, ESPN (1.95 million) lost its cable prime time leader crown to Fox News Channel (2.466 million) by a margin of nearly 500,000 viewers.”
This is extremely generous to ESPN. First of all, never even for a moment did anyone seriously question whether or not ESPN would remain the dominant sports cable network in 2016. ESPN has become the Google or Xerox of sports programming, a monolithic branding presence resulting from essentially running unopposed among sports cable networks for decades. Oh sure, there’s Fox Sports 1, and they do a good job, though despite some recent gains FS1 still has a very long way to go before seriously challenging ESPN in any real sense.
Saying ESPN remains the leader in sports cable programming despite losses is the rough equivalent of saying Hillary Clinton remained the clear frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination, despite plummeting likeability numbers. She, and ESPN, both ran a rigged race in which the outcome was always known despite how awful they are.
Citing the election among the factors for why ESPN lost its coveted primetime spot to FNC in 2016 is fair. Yet, even then, there’s a backstory that’s more than meets the eye.
As Breitbart’s Daniel Flynn notes, “It’s tempting to cite Fox News’s growth and the country’s rightward shift to buttress the argument that ESPN backing the wrong horse led to its decline. But that misses the point. People watch sports to escape politics, not to encounter jock versions of MSNBC and Fox. America wants sports now more than ever. ESPN gives America frustrated political pundits haranguing its captive audience with heavy-handed political tirades.
“Is it any wonder that its captive audience made a jailbreak in 2016?”
Yes, election coverage would go through the roof during an insane election year, such as the one we had in 2016. However, by the same token, people also wanted an escape from politics. Traditionally, sports represented that escape. Because ESPN decided to become MSESPN, they deprived people of that escape and pushed them back to the traditional cable news channels.
After all, if you’re going to get politics either way, why not get it from people actually trained to cover politics? Point being, ESPN shouldn’t have lost their coveted cable spot to FNC. Or, at the very least they should have drawn statistically even.
Instead, they wanted to get notoriety for something other than sports. To transform their venue into a platform for social justice war mongering, as opposed to merely showing you LeBron dunks on a loop. Now that decision to engage in arrogant leftist condescension might result in Disney selling ESPN.
Don’t let anyone tell you that nothing good happened in 2016.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn