ESPN, Politics, and Stipe Miocic: While We’re Waiting

Hey everyone welcome to my week-ending WWW. I’m using this post to highlight the podcast I did with Jamie Meklemburg about Stipe Miocic’s upcoming title defense against Junior Dos Santos on Saturday night. That won’t be the main topic, however, as I wanted to dig into the ESPN / Politics conversation now that most of what’s going to be said has been said.

ESPN’s intersection of business and politics

Now that we’ve had a week or so to let all the news settle around ESPN and all the unfortunate job losses, it’s time that I want to discuss politics at ESPN. Scott wrote about it the Monday after, and it sparked a lot of good conversation in the comments. I’ve been listening to podcasts discuss it for the past week as well from Bomani Jones and Richard Deitsch to Bill Simmons and ESPN expert James Andrew Miller. After thinking about it, I’ve got some thoughts.

ESPN has slanted liberal in recent times as its talent has gotten more vocal on Twitter. I don’t believe there’s an ESPN memo telling them that their corporate line is to be liberal, but there’s no doubt that some of the most outspoken voices on ESPN slant that way. Combine that with the divisive political times we live in and the communication style ushered in by social media, and it’s hard to argue that there isn’t some reality to the perception.

It’s also not surprising that a large number of people that lean right felt like the blood-lettings at ESPN were just desserts for a network alienating some of its customers. That’s the way indignation works. You feel you’re underrepresented or that the world has changed and forgotten you, and you’ll lash out at your enemies even on their worst days. We (sometimes) hate this about ourselves, but it’s part of human nature. Despite that lashing out, and my understanding of it as part of human nature, you can’t connect the dots between ESPN’s loss of business and their political leanings.

It reminds me of when LeBron James went to Miami, and his Q-Score was at an all-time low after “The Decision.” Immediately following his ill-fated ESPN special announcing his departure to Miami, LeBron James’ Q-Score dropped 41.6-percent. He became a heel and a villain to a vast part of the population that once loved him. While that felt good for a minute to many jilted Cleveland Cavaliers fans, it had nothing to do with the business of LeBron James.

His endorsement deals with the likes of Vitamin Water, McDonald’s and most importantly, Nike, remained unchanged. A report from Forbes that attempts to calculate LeBron’s off-court earnings indicates that LeBron’s endorsement cash went from $27 million in 2009-10 to $33 million and up to $40 million in the two subsequent years. LeBron’s business was divorced from his Q-Score, and I feel something similar is going on with ESPN. Their Q-Score might be down because they don’t have that easy, uncomplicated mass appeal that comes from being apolitical. To try and connect that to business losses makes little sense, however.

There might be mass departures from people watching ESPN, but the structure of the cable / satellite world is detached from whether or not people watch a channel. I pay for a lot of channels that I don’t watch, including some channels I used to watch and quit watching. Just because some people that used to watch ESPN now dislike ESPN or stop watching SportsCenter doesn’t mean that they get out of the pre-negotiated carriage fees that are part of the hefty bundle cable price. But ESPN is bleeding business, so isn’t it reasonable to assume that this could be tied to their lesser popularity, which it could be argued is fueled by its leanings politically?

In a word… no.

Let’s try and connect the dots a little bit. ESPN is facing pressure due to cord-cutting. The demographics of people who are cutting the cord are younger people. Streaming Media did a poll in 2015 that indicated about 31-percent of 25-to-34-year-olds had a paid TV subscription. It’s safe to assume a paid subscription would include ESPN. 57-percent of 35-to-44-year-olds purported to have a subscription. That number jumps up to 65-percent for people in the 55-to-64-year-old age bracket.

Why does it matter that younger people are more likely to be cutting the cord? They also happen to be more likely to agree with liberal politics that are supposedly ruining ESPN’s business. One poll I read indicated that so-called millennial voters voted for Hillary Clinton 55-percent to Donald Trump’s 37-percent.1 The exact people that would seem to support the left-leaning politics of ESPN personalities are also the ones that seem to be cratering its actual business of collecting TV carriage fees from expensive TV subscription packages.

It’s also possible that even left-leaning people who would agree with the tone of ESPN personalities don’t want their politics mixed with sports just like their right-leaning counterparts who feel antagonized, but even if everyone agrees that they’d like ESPN to “stick to sports!!11!!” it’s unlikely that those dots are connected to ESPN’s bottom line. Both things might be true that ESPN’s Q-Score is down, and their business is also suffering, but there’s no causation to the correlation due to how carriage fees are structured in the TV subscription business.

The real facts are that people are cutting the cord because they have Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes and any number of other options to pump entertainment options to their televisions. Additionally, they’re using screens like phones and iPads to a greater degree where traditional cable and satellite providers have yet to make a big impact compared to Netflix. Sports fans have more highlights available to them than ever before via social media, league phone apps, and other channels other than ESPN, so much so that every day the “fear of missing out” that has kept people subscribed to cable is dissipating more and more every day.

It used to be impossible to be a sports fan without a cable package. Invariably that cable package included ESPN. It’s still difficult at times to be a sports fan without a cable package, but it’s also never been easier. That inflection point of culture and technology is the battleground. It’s the place where ESPN is marginalized as a TV network. Ironically it’s also the place that enabled ESPN personalities to break the mold and become more political. The political part, however, is almost definitely not responsible for ESPN’s business downfall.

On Stipe Miocic’s title defense…

I spoke with Stipe’s friend Jamie Meklemburg on the podcast as we’ve done from time-to-time over the years. He discussed all the ins and outs of the fight this Saturday night in Dallas as Stipe defends his championship belt against Junior Dos Santos in Dallas.

  1. Third party / independent was 8-percent. []

  • mgbode

    I don’t think many people do the math. They just say “college good, must go”. It is hugely different depending on your field, of course (many are worth it but you need to be selective if you want to get into one).

    I did not go above my BS because when I did the math on getting a doctorate (salary missed versus salary gained), it just didn’t make sense.

  • mgbode

    ESPN ran stories today during the morning shows about how it is unfair Kaep is out of work.
    Fitzgerald received 0 stories.

    I prefer Kaep to Fitzgerald (younger & there’s a chance that leaving SF will help him), but Kaep’s agent has yet to come out and say he’s willing to take less money and not compete for a backup job. They don’t have to but it would help show if he’s being blacklisted or if he’s demanding too much. So, I’m unsure if it’s unfair or not (Gabbert accepted $1m on a 1 year deal yesterday as a comp point).

    Now, back to Fitz/Kaep

    Kaep 35GS 60% 6.9YPA 41-19 TD-INT 195 yd/gm 86 QBrting
    Fitz 39 GS 60% 7.1 YPA 60-40 TD-INT 217 yd/gm 84 QBrting

  • mgbode

    Sure, there are going to be people who shout loud just hoping someone notices.

  • I think we make a lot of subtle choices with our money every day. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to place their priorities, but in a society that drinks as much alcohol, Starbucks, and gourmet restaurant food as we do is making choices about what they “can” afford probably 10 times a day without actually thinking about it at all. I’m really not judging either.

    I CAN’T afford a Ferrari, but sometimes I say I can’t afford a new computer, or an extra weekend away in a hotel. I COULD afford some of those things that I say I CAN’T afford. I’m actually making a choice though.

  • I think it’s a factor in their popularity, but I don’t think it’s causing a significant percentage of people to cancel their entire cable package, which is pretty much what one would have to do to take their business away from ESPN.

  • Steve

    Right, and I think a big part of that is the changing economy. In previous eras, one salary was good enough to put a family of four in a home. Now, for many, you need two to keep the one bedroom apartment.

  • mgbode

    Yeah, if most are two-income, then it raises house prices, daycare prices, school prices, etc. It also puts more economic pressure to keep expanding jobs at a higher rate because more of your population is entering the workforce.

    and as a single income family it is annoying to say the least πŸ™‚

  • mgbode

    Yes, absolutely. I don’t drink anymore (I’ll have a beer at company functions when it’s provided but I could count on one hand the times I’ve had 2x drinks in the past 5+ years). And, while some of it is being a dad and setting a better example, the vast majority of it came out of I saw how much our monthly beer budget was and it was an easy place to cut.

    It is a HUGE reason many conservatives fight so hard with taxes. Taxes are social engineering because they implicitly drive our decision making by changing the costs.

  • mgbode

    My comment disappeared. Anyway was going to add to it that I think a big part of the economy changing is people going to 2-income as much as it is the economy driving people going to it. Women especially are those who used to be stay-at-home but are now being told their entire lives that they don’t need a man, they are independent and they need a career. While this can be positive in some aspects of life, there are detriments in others. As always, it’s about finding balance, but humans suck at balance, we like to swing the pendulum.

  • chrisdottcomm

    — he said, as he cancelled his subscription to ESPN while boycotting Starbucks.

  • nj0

    We’re talking about two separate things.

    Yes, some people choose X over cable.
    Yes, some people are unemployed/underemployed and cannot afford X or cable.

    Most recent unemployment rates:
    20-24: 7.3
    25-34: 4.4
    35-44: 3.6
    45-54: 3.4
    55-??: 3.2

    Also, incomes and wealth are drastically lower for younger peoples. Maybe I’d walk back from the use of “average”. Many millenials couldn’t afford cable if they wanted to. More so than any other age group.

  • nj0

    Nothing against the trades, but the people I know who went that route are now nearing 40 and their bodies have taken a significant toll. Guess it depends on the trade, of course.

  • chrisdottcomm

    “now being told their entire lives that they don’t need a man”

    “Being told” is a strong statement. Women now understand more than ever they have a choice in their lives to pick a career, live independently and decide when is right for them to settle down with a spouse versus the archaic path previously before them.

    I will grant you that they are being backed up in this understanding by various outlets but lets not play like someone came along and told women they must not choose a husband/susy homemaker life.

  • chrisdottcomm

    It me.

    Also has a Talent Recruiter for a Fortune 100 company I can tell you that a majority of our jobs could care less where your degree comes from.

    We push current employees to online courses left and right.

  • mgbode

    makes sense

  • mgbode

    and then the few things that you do say, your boss might come out and tell the press that you were completely wrong the next day. that must be such a ‘fun’ job

  • nj0

    Kaep is also five years younger than Fitzpatrick (not ‘gerald!). But yeah… I don’t know how to feel about all this. I don’t doubt that his politics plays some part in all of this and that’s terrible, but… there’s plenty of on-field reasons to not want him as your quarterback.

    Of course, if it’s true that teams haven’t even reached out to him at all then I think it’s a pretty clear indication that his politics are the issue.

  • mgbode

    Yeah, Freeman sort of buried that in the middle too and noted a single source, which was weird to me. It was the big hammer of that whole piece (I have no doubt his league source believes it but given the politics angle, maybe teams reached out but did so more quietly? I mean, there are so many ways this can go. Just a weird case and we’ll all be better off if someone just signs him to be their backup. )

  • mgbode

    Sure, there are positives to it. Women used to “be told” they had to marry and be provided for. Again, it’s about finding the moderation and balance, which we suck at.

    More generically, some people are better off being stay-at-home parents, some are better in the workforce. Yet, messaging tends to go to one extreme or the other depending on who you talk to.

  • mgbode

    Sure, you make less when you’re younger, but that has always been the case. I still think there’s stretching possibilities depending on what you are willing to sacrifice. 4 guys sharing a 2-bedroom apt was pretty common when I was starting out so we could afford everything we wanted as far as going out, our new-fangled cell phones, internet, and yes cable. Those are better possibilities when you aren’t married w/ kids & it becomes a tougher conversation to have all those buddies shack up in your garage πŸ™‚

  • nj0

    Plus “League source” often means agent/employee loyal to his client/team.

    What teams does Kaep make sense for? I see a few, but for all of them I can find logical, non-kneeling reasons on why they’d pass.

  • mgbode

    With one big exception being the NY Jets who almost directly said they wouldn’t consider him because of it.

  • nj0

    True. And, as bad as that might be, one team feeling that way isn’t as horrible of a look if it were the whole league.

    What really needs to happen is the Pats need to sign him. Then it’ll be just another wicked move by the Hoodie, using a lefty’s politics against him so he has to accept a low ball offer. CULLA DON’T MADDA. YAH A PAT NOW!

  • mgbode

    except would Kaep beat out Brissett for the QB3 job? (he’s probably better today, but then Brissett is young, controlled/cheap, and possible upside) — just to play antagonist on how this is complicated

  • nj0


    It’s going to be a moment of national reconciliation.

  • mgbode

    Ah, Kaep’s “Tebow w/ the Jets” moment

  • Garry_Owen

    Well, anecdotally, the singular presence of sports broadcasting on cable/satellite is the thing that has kept me from cutting the cord. The fact that I no longer watch ESPN essentially removes that final barrier. The underlying reason I no longer watch ESPN provides my final (the proximate cause) basis for cutting it all off. So, it’s at least true for me. I can’t be the only one. (Indeed, I know for a fact that I’m not.)

  • jpftribe

    Dolt may be a little strong, but I kinda feel that way about the whole of American Media establishment, especially cable TV.

  • jpftribe

    Unless it’s a live sporting event, about 95% of what I watch is on demand shows / movies. I never watch ESPN or any of the news channels. It saves me from screaming at walls.

  • One more thing here. Since so many are going to college and burying themselves in debt, it changes the entire dynamic. A mom (or dad) who would have potentially wanted to stay at home cannot rationalize (or afford) doing it when they have a $75K debt hanging over their head. It causes couples to start families later, and more parents to both work. Then, they have these established careers and it is hard to give something up you have worked so hard to obtain. We have gotten ourselves into a tricky spot as a society.

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