Not so long ago, SportsCenter was a clip show. Each morning, a couple of sharp-witted gentleman presented highlights of last night’s games. During the clips, the producers played upbeat music and the hosts told the viewers what happened, tossing in a few well-timed quips and catch-phrases.
It was perfect. To me, SportsCenter was The News. I had to watch it once a day or else I would be an ill-informed man.
Last month, ESPN laid off one hundred people.
Hey, SportsCenter: are you wondering how you went from the center of the sports world to an embarrassing public blood bath? I’ll tell you.
1. You didn’t focus on the sports that guys care about
I don’t know where the ESPN producers got the impression that sports fans are interested in golf, X-Games, and the WNBA. But, I assure you, we aren’t.
I have had a thousand conversations about sports with guys at work over the years. Exactly zero of them have been about X-Games (obviously).
2. You didn’t focus on sports at all
When Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe, the sports media covered the story. That made sense. Since then, though, sports journalists should have stayed the heck out of the personal lives of athletes. Leave that trash to the tabloids.
ESPN has a very different philosophy.
Tiger Woods’s wife went after him with a golf club? I don’t care, ESPN, that’s none of my business. LeBron James flirted with a model on Instagram? I don’t care, ESPN, that’s none of my business.
Aaron Hernandez might have had a jailhouse lover. For shame, ESPN. I don’t care. It is none of my business. That has nothing to do with sports. By covering that story, you have diminished your brand. And probably diminished your chance of passing through the Pearly Gates.
3. You went out of your way to offend your core audience
At some point early this century, the bigwigs in your company decided that every conservative working for ESPN needs to be completely silent about his political beliefs or be fired.
That would be a perfectly sensible business decision if ESPN were a non-profit organization dedicated to saving the Striped West Virginia Ground Sloth from extinction by trying to ban fracking.
But you run a sports network and your core audience is American guys. Newsflash, ESPN: we tend to lean Right. Shaming and censoring conservatives on your network was a bad idea.
It kind of made sense when you pushed Rush Limbaugh out the door for making comments about race on the air. It made less sense when you fired baseball analyst Curt Schilling for his social media post about transgender bathrooms.
As hard as I try, though, I can’t figure out what you were thinking when you fired long-time Monday Night Football theme-song singer Hank Williams Jr. after he made an offhand remark about Obama on Fox & Friends.
Mr. Williams’s job was simply to put on a cowboy hat and sunglasses and sing “Are You Ready For Some Football?” once a week. Did you expect him to pretend to be a progressive?
It’s hideous decisions like that that cost you your viewership and led to the 100 high-profile layoffs last month. “But it wasn’t our fault,” you plead, “our lower ratings are the result of new internet technology.” Partially perhaps. But that doesn’t explain why I hate your channel. If you run a sport network and guys loathe you, you have messed up.
I am one of the millions of people who pulled the plug on ESPN last year. And I don’t miss it at all.