ESPN: A Beloved Network Slowly Dies

The sports network we all know – and used to love – is dying a slow, ugly death. Ratings are down, fan favorites were fired, and journalists are leaning to clickbait to attract viewers — and it will only get worse.

The monopoly ESPN once held on the five major sports (Soccer, Basketball, Baseball, Football and Hockey) is no more. There are simply more outlets and platforms to enjoy sports on. This include sites such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo Sports and even social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

A lot of sports fans are no longer forced to wait for their news when they get home, because an alert will pop up right on their phone. Therefore, people are updated on all of the crazy goals, dunks, home-runs, hits and fights throughout the day, so they don’t have to rely on watching Sports Center at night for their daily recap of sports news.

Of course ESPN is a part of the smartphone fad, but in order to get those clicks they must separate themselves. The way they do this, though, is by using yellow journalism: better known as clickbait.

One example of this clickbait was a back-and-forth between Golden State Warriors “star” (another story for another article) Draymond Green and ESPN. A reporter asked Green about the weak competition in the Eastern Conference during the 2016-17 playoffs. Green responded by saying as a fan he enjoys watching good basketball, referencing the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I like to watch teams playing good basketball. When you watch [the Cavs], you watch one team playing good basketball and everybody else do something. I don’t know what that something is,” said Green

The next day, ESPN released an article titled, “Draymond Green disappointed Cavs’ opponents going down easily.” Green then clarified his statement, sarcastically saying, “so there there goes your headline of the day, “Draymond says ‘Cleveland playing great basketball’”. Let’s see if that one makes it”. Instead, ESPN went with, “Draymond Green critical of media, ‘Says Cavs playing great basketball’”.

While the increasing use of smartphones does explain the daytime talk shows and SportsCenter ratings falling, this does not explain why ESPN’s heralded Monday Night Football ratings have been plummeting too. Since 2013, Monday Night Football has been on a steady decline. Most individuals who enjoy football are home at 8:30 – the time of kickoff – yet the ratings each week continue to decrease.

This is partially the NFL’s fault, because they schedule some of the worst teams to play primetime games. (An example is the Miami Dolphins playing in two Monday night games, during one of which they got crushed 45 to 21 by the Carolina Panthers.)

However, some Monday Night Football matchups did have entertaining potential, such as the Saints, who finished the season 11-5, versus the Vikings, who finished 13-3. When two good teams match up, why aren’t the people watching?

Maybe because people are less interested in football? Partially, but that isn’t the true reason. In actuality, fewer and fewer people have cable. With the advancements in the internet, families are ditching their cable boxes in search of cheaper alter- natives.  These include subscriptions to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, CrunchyRoll and more. As time goes on and members of Generation Z all become adults, you can only expect that the death of ESPN is inevitable.

While they may never be able to return to their former glory, there are a few things ESPN can do to regain viewership and respect. They need more entertaining, less cringy show hosts.

The late Stewart Scott would recap games with a certain excitement that fans tuned in to enjoy. Today, people watch ESPN to laugh at Stephen A. Smith yell at the top of his lungs for players to “stay off the weed” and say the word blasphemous over a million times. Part of the problem is that some ESPN’s favorites have either retired or fled to other networks. While childhood nostalgia makes me hope for the best, we should all expect the worst.

Illustration by Ryx Zan