Sticking to Sports: ESPN Ratings Soar As Network Abandons Politics

ESPN Ratings
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Cable sports network ESPN has increased viewership by 18% since its decision to go back to sports, and leave politics behind.

According to numbers reported by Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy, the network has seen growth after years of falling viewership.

“ESPN says its July viewership rose 18% on a total-day basis. Increased to 518,000 viewers this July from 440,000 same month in 2018, via Nielsen,” McCarthy wrote on Friday. “The boost follows June where ESPN registered a five-percent increase. Meanwhile, ESPN2 was up seven percent year over year in July, from 148,000 to 159,000.”

The welcome change in viewership comes after a year of effort by ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro to hew away from the once growing focus on left-wing politics at the expense of sports coverage.

Pitaro, who took over the network in March of last year, immediately set out to depoliticize ESPN’s coverage after years of controversy sparked by commentators and writers focusing on politics instead of sports.

In August of 2018, for instance, Pitaro told the Washington Post that he told employees to stay away from politics. “I will tell you I have been very, very clear with employees here that it is not our jobs to cover politics, purely,” he said.

Since that public proclamation, Pitaro has repeatedly reminded employees to stick to sports and steer clear of pure political proclamations. It now appears that his efforts have paid dividends. The reverse of ESPN’s ratings decline is welcome news to a network that had become accustomed to falling ratings. In 2016, for instance, ESPN suffered a 9 percent drop in each prime time and total-day viewership year-to-year.

Indeed, 2016 — the year before Pitaro took over — was a horrible year for ESPN. The network also lost 555,000 subscribers just in the month of November alone that year. And that was nothing compared to the even larger 621,000 subscribers the network lost the month before. Indeed the whole of 2016 saw hundreds of thousands of lost subscribers every month.

It remains to be seen if Pitaro’s return to sports first and foremost will reverse the bleeding of subscribers, but a reversal of the cratering ratings is a good first step.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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