When Jimmy Pitaro was named ESPN’s new president in March 2018, it was no secret that he had a slew of challenges in front of him.
ESPN was a damaged brand when Pitaro took over, plagued by subscribers leaving in droves. At one point, ESPN had lost two million subscribers in a 12-month span.
There are numerous reasons for that mass exodus of viewers.
First, the television landscape is undoubtedly changing with the emergence of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Second, sports fans hoping for actual sports highlights and analysis have still had to deal with the remnants of ESPN’s “embrace debate” era.
Third, ESPN has struggled mightily with keeping politics out of sports, which has turned people off in droves.
The politicization of sports was bad enough that when Pitaro first took over ESPN, he had to address the issue head-on after meeting with his new employees.
“I know that a lot of conversation has happened within this company in the past year and I believe that we netted out in the right place, which is we are a sports media company.”
Given that notoriously anti-Trump ESPN employee and former “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill’s controversial remarks and expressly political shows like “Get Up!” still happened under Pitaro’s watch, it’s safe to say that he has been getting mixed results.
Hill, in particular, represented some of the very worst aspects of ESPN to many fans.
Not only was she obnoxiously vocal about her politics and hatred of Trump (neither of which have anything to do with sports), but all of that vitriol was wrapped in a smug and condescending package.
Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
It shouldn’t be a surprise at all that ratings for “SportsCenter” immediately spiked after Hill was replaced by the much more apolitical Sage Steele.
With evidence mounting that sports fans do not want politics overriding actual sports coverage, Pitaro seemed to admit as much to the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Monday.
“Without question our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics,” Pitaro said. “My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them. If you fast-forward to today, I don’t believe they are confused.”
Is that the case, though? It’s not even halfway through 2019 yet and Stephen A. Smith, the notorious ESPN personality who has somehow mastered the art of speaking in all caps, has had more than one brush with political controversy.
In January, Smith went on an incredulous rant on his ESPN radio show, telling “white America” to “shut the hell up.” Then, Smith got into another heated incident arguing about the “God Bless America” controversy, where various sports teams disassociated themselvesfrom singer Kate Smith.
That’s to say nothing of ESPN’s continued employment of the far-left Keith Olbermann.
So to give credit where it’s due, at least Pitaro seems cognizant of ESPN’s issues with politicization.
But actions speak louder than words, and ESPN’s personalities aren’t backing up what Pitaro’s saying.