No Change Expected for ESPN Political Agenda Despite Huge Subscriber Decline

Bob Iger
The Associated Press

As more and more sports fans turn off ESPN to protest the network’s left-wing social and political agenda, parent company Disney’s decision to extend current CEO Bob Iger’s contract through 2019 means the “world’s leader in sports entertainment” will continue on its merry way of alienating a large segment of Americans.

Breitbart reported in November that ESPN lost 3.2 million subscribers in just over a year. Moreover, for the last few years the sports network has lost 300,000 subscribers a month. In October alone, the beleaguered network lost 621,000 subscribers.

The decision to keep Iger instead of moving in another direction, such as promoting COO Thomas Staggs to the spot, has a number of substantial business implications for ESPN. Awful Announcing reports:

From the outside, at least, it seems like Iger is quite satisfied with ESPN’s leadership and with the network’s path on most fronts. Specifically, he’s regularly spoken about how important it is for ESPN to be in “skinny bundles” (including streaming options from Sling, DirecTV and more) and about ESPN’s forthcoming over-the-top offering. Those views wouldn’t necessarily be shared by a different CEO; Staggs, for example, spoke much more about the importance of the traditional multi-channel bundle, so a Disney CEO with his views might focus more on that side, or conversely, another Disney CEO might want ESPN to quickly go into over-the-top in a larger way (standalone access to all ESPN content, including TV channels) rather than starting with the ESPN3-focused light approach Iger seems to be promoting.

Putting those circumstances aside, the crux of ESPN continuing on in its political and social agenda derives from the fact that Iger is a strident lifelong Democrat. One so committed, in fact, that the Disney stalwart co-hosted a Hillary Clinton fundraiser last summer along with mega-Democrat supporters such as entertainment Mogul Haim Saban, Chernin Group chairman and CEO Peter Chernin, and entertainment and sports executive Casey Wasserman. 

To get an idea of Iger’s taste on social issues, one of his proposed “entertainment” ideas is a filmic version of Girls, a popular television show starring Lena Dunham.

Somewhat surprisingly, and to the chagrin of many of his supporters and shareholders, Iger is serving on President Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum council of CEOs. Iger agrees with Trump on shutting down certain tax loopholes and strongly supports lowering corporate tax rates (no surprise there).

Earlier this month, Iger reportedly defended his participation in Trump’s mastermind group, asserting, “I think there is an opportunity for me to express views that I think … are of value to the company and its shareholders.” Insisting that he won’t be co-opted, Iger informs that he will be “adversarial to the view of the administration,” which includes “immigration.”

Yet, the CEO argues that claims asserting ESPN is politically slanted are “just a complete exaggeration.” With that said, it looks like ESPN’s cable subscription downward spiral will persist as long as Iger remains as Disney’s top executive.