One struggles to put into proper perspective the sheer collapse that has befallen the “worldwide leader.” Yet, while the final numbers from 2016 start to come in, that perspective has started to take shape.
Like this, from the sports media site Awful Announcing, “ESPN remained the dominant sports cable network leader in 2016 despite a 9 percent drop in each prime time and total-day viewership year-to-year. Its top program “Monday Night Football” averaged a 9-year low for its season and was down 12 percent from its previous year (11.4 million vs. 2016’s 12.9 million). Due to the unprecedented 2016 presidential election, ESPN (1.95 million) lost its cable prime time leader crown to Fox News Channel (2.466 million) by a margin of nearly 500,000 viewers.”
This is extremely generous to ESPN. First of all, never even for a moment did anyone seriously question whether or not ESPN would remain the dominant sports cable network in 2016. ESPN has become the Google or Xerox of sports programming, a monolithic branding presence resulting from essentially running unopposed among sports cable networks for decades. Oh sure, there’s Fox Sports 1, and they do a good job, though despite some recent gains FS1 still has a very long way to go before seriously challenging ESPN in any real sense.
Saying ESPN remains the leader in sports cable programming despite losses is the rough equivalent of saying Hillary Clinton remained the clear frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination, despite plummeting likeability numbers. She, and ESPN, both ran a rigged race in which the outcome was always known despite how awful they are.
Citing the election among the factors for why ESPN lost its coveted primetime spot to FNC in 2016 is fair. Yet, even then, there’s a backstory that’s more than meets the eye.
As Breitbart’s Daniel Flynn notes, “It’s tempting to cite Fox News’s growth and the country’s rightward shift to buttress the argument that ESPN backing the wrong horse led to its decline. But that misses the point. People watch sports to escape politics, not to encounter jock versions of MSNBC and Fox. America wants sports now more than ever. ESPN gives America frustrated political pundits haranguing its captive audience with heavy-handed political tirades.
“Is it any wonder that its captive audience made a...Read More HERE