It’s been an unaccustomed difficult couple of years for ESPN. Subscriber loss, layoffs, and political criticism, but they’re still undoubtedly the “Worldwide Leader” in sports and Scott Van Pelt made sure that was clear during his interview with Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina.
One of ESPN’s most recognizable personalities, Van Pelt was very candid with his thoughts while appearing on Traina’s “Off the Board” podcast. “If you truly wanna boycott the NFL and you wanna boycott ESPN, the notion that some guy sitting out there, or gal, and they decide, ‘you know what, I’m gonna cut my entire cable package because ESPN gave an award on a made-up show in July because there’s no sports, to a woman who used to be a man, so I’m now not gonna have any cable TV at all and I’m gonna sit around at night and read books by candlelight like olden times because of that,’ that’s not happening.”
Van Pelt continued, “And if you did that, then you’re so dumb that I can’t even pray for you because you’re beyond hope. If that was your reaction to this, was to deny yourself the ability to watch television, I mean that just hasn’t happened and didn’t happen, so I boycott them.”
ESPN has recently been criticized for being overly left and political, but Van Pelt doesn’t think subscribers are truly dropping the network for politics. At times during the podcast, Van Pelt was probably more defensive and open than ESPN would normally like, but fresh off a new contract extension, he was able to be confidently outspoken.
Politics might not be the primary reason behind ESPN losing subscribers, but cord cutting is still a real concern. The network has been reacting to cord cutters through layoffs and recent programming decisions. A failed attempt to partner with Barstool, bringing SportsCenter to Snapchat, offering more personality driven shows are all examples of the network trying to respond to consumers moving from traditional television to digital platforms.