Conservatives seem to be turning away from ESPN

Paul HiebertData Journalist
May 03, 2017, 1:32 PM GMT+0

Data shows that ESPN impression scores among Republicans have dropped significantly since 2013

Last week, when news broke that ESPN was laying off around 100 employees, some prominent conservative voices on Twitter connected the network's present woes with a supposed liberal bent.

We told you to stick to sports @ESPN, and stop shoving the liberal agenda in our faces. ESPN to lay off 100 on-air personalities. 😂 👍— Mark Dice (@MarkDice) April 26, 2017

This characterization isn't new. Last January, for example, ESPN broadcast a tribute to President Barack Obama on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Breitbart News used the moment to remind its readers that the network is "obscenely biased and liberal."

While ESPN has been losing subscribers in recent years, experts tend to blame this decline on the increase in cable unbundling and cord-cutting. Indeed, according to data from YouGov, a quarter of current ESPN customers say they're considering cancelling their cable subscription at some point in the future.

At the same time, however, there is some truth to the idea that conservatives have grown cold to the sports network. YouGov numbers show that ESPN impression scores among Republicans have dropped from around 32 in 2013 to just above 16 in 2017. Democrats, meanwhile, have kept a relatively stable view of the network during the same period.

A look at past events reveals what likely led to some of the more noticeable drops. In July, 2015, for instance, Caitlyn Jenner won the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPY Awards. (While the 2015 ESPYs aired on ESPN sister network ABC, the award show has traditionally been broadcast on ESPN and is still linked with the sports network.) In April, 2016, ESPN fired former All-Star pitcher and on-air baseball analyst Curt Schilling for posting controversial content about transgender people on social media.

In both cases, Republican sentiment toward ESPN declined.

Whether ESPN's programming has become more liberal in recent years or not is beside the point; the figures suggest that enough Republicans believe it has, and this belief has ostensibly contributed to their diminished view of the sports network.