ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro admitted for a Los Angeles Times profile this weekend that the social justice bent his network has taken in the era of President Donald Trump has hurt it with viewers.
“Without question our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics,” Pitaro confessed. “My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them.”
In other words — shut up and analyze the dribbling.
The LA Times also notes that Pitaro has addressed traditional fans of the network by “steering commentators away from political discussions,” something that was heightened during the battle between the president and NFL players who were protesting the national anthem.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) May 20, 2019
Fans don’t want it. Prior to Pitaro’s taking over in March of 2018, ESPN was suffering horrible ratings on both television and radio programming. The network was shedding employees — some of them prominent names — by the hundreds.
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It was almost surely because of politics seeping into the coverage.
(You mean people tuning in to see sports highlights and analysis didn’t like being told that the president is a racist and that they are, too, if they agree with him? That fans looking to escape the realities of the world for a brief period through sports didn’t appreciate anchors interjecting their personal politics?)
Who could have predicted such a thing? Well, everyone really.
The average sports consumer used to go to ESPN to see highlights of his or her favorite teams. In the era of Trump, viewers got to see anchors refer to the president and his supporters as white supremacists. They got to hear hosts blast the legendary Tiger Woods over his friendship with Trump, mocking him as stupid and claiming, “He’s not black.”
Fans were even subjected to having a football announcer pulled from coverage of a University of Virginia game because of the crime of having the name Robert Lee.
— PoliticalPOET (@POETreeOTIC) August 23, 2017
A top ESPN executive indicated in December of 2018 that the network’s pivot to political commentary was a “miscalculation,” something the network had previously denied.
“I think we miscalculated a little bit,” the exec told The Washington Post. “The perception became that you could just roll a talent out there and it doesn’t matter what he or she is saying — that the content didn’t matter. I just never believed that.”
The network did believe it for a period of time, however.
It’s good to see Pitaro steer them back to the core material that sports fans are seeking.
Is it too little, too late?
This piece originally appeared in The Political Insider and is used by permission.
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