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‘They forgot their core’: ESPN is crushing its own business with politics

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While ESPN seems bent on defying a demand to stick to sports, one long-time anchor thinks its political stance has ultimately hurt the network.

Linda Cohn, who has anchored many of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” editions over nearly 25 years at the network, acknowledged that its left-leaning political stance has hurt the sports media giant which last week announced the layoffs of more than 100 reporters and on-air personalities.

Cohn blamed ESPN’s problems on the rights fees they had paid to sports leagues, but admitted there was more to it than that during an interview on WABC’s “Bernie and Sid Show.”

“They definitely overpaid for many of these products, whether it’s the NBA or starting up networks like the Pac-12 Network and SEC Network,” she said. “It’s well documented … They did not see that they would lose all these subscribers.”

The Washington Post reported:

But it was more than just that. Politics played a part, as did the network’s move away from strictly covering sports.

Which brings us to politics. Whether ESPN got there first or was merely led by athletes, who are increasingly becoming vocal about politics and social justice, doesn’t really matter in the face of criticism that has become a nearly constant presence. ESPN was ripped almost two years ago for giving Caitlyn Jenner its Arthur Ashe Courage Award over Lauren Hill, the Mount St. Joseph basketball player who had brain cancer. The criticism continued over its coverage of Colin Kaepernick last year and his protest of the national anthem. The network roamed farther and farther away from coverage, running near-constant debates with “hot takes” that can alienate viewers. Fandom can be polarizing enough without politics creeping into things.

“I felt that the old school viewers were put in a corner and not appreciated with all these other changes,” Cohn told WABC host Sid Rosenberg. “And they forgot their core. You can never forget your core and be grateful for your core group.”

ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady last week told viewers they “should not hold your breath waiting for a change,” and tweeted about the network’s refusal to back out of the political stage.

“There seems to be a lot of folks that have a distaste for the way ESPN goes about some of their programming and some of their promotions when socially folks don’t accept these things,” WABC’s Rosenberg said.

“You’re right,” Cohn responded. “That is definitely a percentage of it. I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”

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Frieda Powers

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