First, a confession.  I don’t watch ESPN and haven’t for three or four years now, so I’m probably not the most knowledgeable guy to be talking about this.  On the other hand, why I stopped watching might be instructive.  We didn’t exactly “cut the cord” on cable TV (antenna reception here in the hinterlands is a little inconsistent), but when the rates for “basic” cable spiraled through the roof, we did a little research and found out that the local cable company offered something that was sort of a super basic plan that included the local networks and a few other channels like the Weather Channel, three or four home shopping channels, and Univision.  They do provide TBS, which used to be a good network, but now specializes in reruns of The Big Bang Theory.  From a sports standpoint, it’s not all bad.  Sometimes, when I’ve drunk heavily enough to think soccer is interesting, I’ll catch a game on Univision.  Unfortunately, the charges for this stripped down version of cable are starting to skyrocket as well, so we might be forced to cut the cord for real.  Apparently, our local cable company hasn’t quite figured out that they don’t have the monopoly that they’ve enjoyed for so many years.  That monthly payout we’ve been making to Netflix is looking like a better investment every day.

ESPN is hemorrhaging viewers and money at an alarming rate and recently had to fire a lot of people to put a tourniquet on the bleedout, including a lot of their on-air talent.  Given my personal experience with local cable, when ESPN spokespeople state that this loss in viewership is because of several factors (including rising cable rates) and has nothing to do with their wide swing to the left on the political spectrum (a shift that they freely admit was a part of their business strategy), I believe them.  Or rather, I believe that they truly believe that.  ESPN also made some really terrible business decisions over the past few years.  If you’re not a fan of college football, you might not have noticed that it’s nearly impossible to watch a football game after December 10th if you don’t have ESPN.  ESPN now pretty much monopolizes the entire college bowl season, right up to the national title game.  To achieve that monopoly, the network had to spend a lot of money for the rights to air these games.  With more and more people cutting the cord, advertisers are less willing to fork over the big bucks to help defray those costs.  It’s not just college football.  ESPN overpaid for the rights to almost every sporting event it shows.  Basically, the market ESPN caters to shifted away from cable television and ESPN didn’t adapt to that shift fast enough.  Now, they have to navigate through the consequences of that mistake.

Still, in choosing to become the network of the sports-conscious social justice warrior (or if you prefer, the politically left leaning sports fan; take your pick), ESPN made a deliberate decision to tick off at least half of its audience on a routine basis.  Unless it intentionally wants to become a niche market like the Carpentry Channel, this just doesn’t seem like a good business strategy.  Here in Flyover Country, ESPN was already a four letter word even before this foray into politics.  Most sports fans around here believe, with a good deal of justification in my opinion, that ESPN should be renamed the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network of Everywhere East of the Appalachian Mountains and North of Chesapeake Bay (although I understand that ESPNEEAMNCB is probably a little too bulky for advertising purposes).  If you watched ESPN’s baseball coverage, you might think the Major League baseball was only played in Boston and New York and, sometimes, Philadelphia and Baltimore.  I don’t have the numbers to back it up, but I have to think that the shift left was the last straw for at least a few people and right now ESPN needs every viewer it can get.

Probably the two biggest killers of businesses are the failure to adapt to new circumstances and the failure to understand your customer.  For both of these killers ESPN is really killing it.