The sports outlet that has been trending to the left made a laughable partnering sponsorship with the left-wing news channel.
The recent firing of 100 notable ESPN on air talent and beat reporters had many people noting the network is in the process of driving away its audience. In recent years there has been a noted, some would say blatant, move by the network to more liberal and activist content. As that opinion has built and become more vocal the executives at the sports channel have decided to ramp up that positioning of the brand.
This past weekend that desire took a comical step. As the channel’s signature show Sports Center was cutting to a commercial break the gravel-infused baritone of signature ESPN voice-over announcer Chris Kelly came on for the outro promotional cut:
A number of questions abound once you see this brief MSNBC clip. If you are a network suffering losses of viewers at an alarming rate you would think that everything from content, to your image, would be under sharp analysis. So who thought, while absorbing stark criticism for a growing liberal tone that is driving away viewers, that it was a smart idea to stage this graphics-laden promo with the house of Rachel Maddow and tampon earrings?!
The promo may strike as a curious choice – a competing NBC network advertising on the channel that is Disney-owned, along with ABC. However cable networks frequently cross-advertise, and Disney has no competing news network. Still, more than buying ad space this was a premium ad spot, with in-studio imagery and on-air talent used to tout the partisan news outlet. The inference of intimacy between the two networks is palpable, even if unintentional.
ESPN has made it the new policy to encourage its talent to be more engaged socially, and if politics can be worked into the sports coverage it is welcomed. This despite erosion in ratings as more fans vocally declare they are leaving. This is a reality acknowledged by longtime anchor Linda Kohn in a recent radio interview. ESPN executives however seem to be doubling down, maintaining this posturing as part of the network’s image.
The channel has celebrated Caitlyn Jenner at The ESPY Awards, highlighted Colin Kaepernick’s anti-American protests, and gave Michael Sam over-the-top coverage as the NFL’s first openly gay player. Look at where those figures ended up after ESPN force-fed their stories to the audience: Kaepernick is today out of work; Sam never played a down in the league; and Jenner’s new TV program was almost instantly cancelled.
These causes have not led to an endearing audience. In 2016 ESPN lost TWO MILLION subscribers, and the numbers continue to drop this year. Those bad decisions the network executives have made led to a dismal result. Rather than learning from them they seem intent on repeating them. Frequently.