ESPN’s decision to suspend host Jemele Hill last month after her second violation of the company’s social media policy (she tweeted that people should boycott advertisers of the Dallas Cowboys after its owner sided with President Trump) did little to stanch the steady bleed of paying customers that is threatening the erstwhile “World Leader in Sports.”
As Breitbart reported, the troubled cable sports channel lost 480,000 paying subscribers last month - or about 15,000 a day. The loss coincided with Trump’s battle with professional sports over whether leagues should punish players for kneeling during the national anthem - a battle that Trump appears to be winning.
To put this loss in perspective, the number of subscribers lost last month is about equivalent to the population of Sacramento, the capital of California and the US’s thirty-fifth largest city.
Of course, ESPN isn’t the only cable sports channel losing subscribers as more consumers cut the cord and migrate to more affordable online streaming services. Fox Sports One lost 584,000 households in the month of October. Though, it is noteworthy, that Fox Sports One’s ESPN-esque decline has coincided with the channel’s efforts to introduce more politicized content, a strategy also tentatively adopted by ESPN. Case in point: the Reverend Jesse Jackson was brought in as a host on Fox Sports One’s Undisputed, the network’s flagship debate show, featuring Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe.
Breitbart’s Dylan Gwinn explains why Jackson’s addition hurt Fox Sports:
Jackson bashed President Trump and used slave references to describe the how players are treated in the NFL. This move, straight out of the ESPN playbook, seemed really odd considering that FS1 has branded themselves as being everything that ESPN is not. However, considering that incident, in addition to the daily drum beat of liberal insanity coming from Shannon Sharpe; and one gets a pretty clear picture of why the network which branded itself as the alternative to ESPN, has suddenly become just like ESPN.
Still, the falling subscriber count is particularly disastrous for ESPN, which may find that it can no longer afford Monday Night Football after 2021, leaving the channel without any broadcast partnerships with the NFL - America’s biggest sports league.
Trump famously blasted the network for being politicized after Hill labeled him a “white supremacist” on Twitter.
Of course, Hill’s comments may have created an uncomfortable lose-lose situation for ESPN, because, as data shows, the NFL is equally well-liked among Republicans and Democrats. While liberals may have punished the network for suspending Hill, conservatives may have canceled their subscriptions without waiting for the network’s apology, given the steady stream of liberal-leaning commentary that has emerged in recent months.
Subscriber losses have led to layoffs of on-air talent in Bristol while also stoking speculation that Disney might move to spin off its increasingly embattled sports channel. How many more subscribers need to cut the cord before Disney decides it's no longer worth carrying ESPN's baggage?