ESPN’s Spat with President Trump Gave the Network a Noticeable Ratings Bump

AP Jim Lo Scalzo
AP Photo/Jim Lo Scalzo

ESPN might want to send President Trump a check this month. Why should the four-letter network that allows their talent to call Trump a white supremacist with impunity, do such a thing? They should do it because their highly publicized feud with the president gave ESPN a nice little ratings bump.

Between President Trump’s criticism of the NFL and Jemele Hill’s tweeting, the cable sports network received a small, yet noticeable bump in the ratings, a new report shows.

After ESPN host Jemele Hill began tweeting attacks on President Trump calling him a “white supremacist,” and the network’s subsequently refused to punish her, the president and many others ratcheted up criticism of the network.

At one point after Hill attacked him, Trump tweeted a reminder that ESPN is losing fans and subscribers “in RECORD numbers.”

Not long after that, White House Press Spokesperson Sarah Sanders told the press that Hill’s comments should be a “fireable offense.”

Hill’s tweet was also subject of much criticism among conservatives, not to mention chatter from liberals praising Hill’s attack on the president.

Apparently, all the controversy over Hill’s comments and the subsequent refusal of the network to punish her in any way was enough to drive viewership up during the week the story was raging. However, the ratings bump was decidedly temporary as once the conflagration subsided, ESPN went right back to losing viewers.

A look at the ratings according to The Big Lead, shows that on September 25, 26, and 27, ESPN either gained a small positive ratings boost, or slowed its normal decline considerably.

For instance, between September 11 and 22, the 10 AM hour was down 14 percent and for Sept. 28 to October 4, it was down 21 percent. But during those three days of the Jemele Hill story the hour saw a five percent rise in ratings. Similarly, for the 6 PM broadcast of SportsCenter, the show was down 17 percent and 10 percent in the first and third set of dates, but up 11 percent during those three days encompassing the Hill controversy.

The Big Lead saw similar statistics in several other ESPN shows during the period, but all had one thing in common. As soon as the controversy cooled, they all went right back to losing an average of 14 percent of viewers each period.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.