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Something astonishing happened at ESPN after Jemele Hill left 'SportsCenter'

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With ESPN’s head firmly planted in the sand when it comes to the issues afflicting “The Worldwide Leader,” something surprising happened with one of it’s floundering SportsCenter slots.

The ratings went up.

Amid a pair of mass layoffs in 2017, plummeting public perception and declining viewership, ESPN has spent years trying to reverse the course of the company.

For the most part, ESPN’s attempts to boost viewership have ranged from wholly ineffective, such as shaking up existing shows, to distinctly damaging, such as ESPN’s new and expensive “Get Up!” morning show.

And yet, through sheer happenstance, ESPN did find a modicum of success, as “SportsCenter” ratings have trended upward.

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ESPN may not like the reasoning behind the ratings boost, but they’re not in any position to be picky, considering the otherwise disastrous April they had.

Tucked away in a Thursday news release, ESPN revealed that the 6 p.m. edition of “SportsCenter” saw a 9 percent rise in viewership.

“The 6 p.m. SportsCenter has focused on including breaking news as well as an emphasis on ‘setting the table’ for the night in sports,” said David Roberts, ESPN’s vice president of network content,  who also oversees the 6 p.m. edition of “SportsCenter.

“The response from viewers has been fantastic, as April’s increases indicated an appetite for coverage of the biggest stories in sports, such as: the Masters, the NBA and NHL playoffs, the return of MLB to Puerto Rico and the lead-up to the NFL Draft. During the playoffs, the show takes on even greater importance in informing fans,” he added.

Do you ever tune in to "SportsCenter?"

April’s 6 p.m. “SportsCenter” averaged 526,000 viewers, a 9 percent bump from April 2017. The time slot also saw a 4 percent increase from March.

So what happened? Whether by luck, circumstance or both, ESPN took the frivolity and political bias out of SportsCenter.

By no coincidence, the ratings bump seems like a direct response to ESPN kicking Jemele Hill and Michael Smith out of their previous “SC6” segments and covering just sports on the 6 p.m. “SportsCenter.” Hill drew widespread criticism and condemnation when she accused President Donald Trump of being a “white supremacist.” Smith hasn’t been as outspoken with his politics, but he has always provided tacit and overt support of Hill’s message.

So yes, ESPN took the politics out of a show and it’s sagging time slot. Now, that show has bounced back with a nearly 10 percent increase in viewership.

Contrary to popular belief, ESPN’s biased politics aren’t the primary reason so many fans have been leaving in droves in recent years, although it is certainly part of it.

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Rather, the main reason ESPN has been struggling is because it’s been introducing any politics at all. Fans tune into sports to watch competition, victory and defeat. Fans watch sports to forget about all of the problems in the world for a couple hours, not to be reminded of them. Even fans who may agree with ESPN’s political biases just don’t want to hear about it all the time.

There’s plenty of room for political discourse on the news or among peers. Sports have always been an escape from that.

Will ESPN learn its lesson from this? Hopefully.

But it’s never been clearer that fans want aimless politicization out of their favorite sports. Nothing speaks louder to network executives than when fans choose to speak with their remote controls.

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Bryan Chai has written news and sports for The Western Journal for more than two years and has produced more than 1,300 stories. He specializes in the NBA and NFL as well as politics.
Bryan Chai has written news and sports for The Western Journal for more than two years and has produced more than 1,300 stories. He specializes in the NBA and NFL as well as politics. He graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. He is an avid fan of sports, video games, politics and debate.
Class of 2010 University of Arizona. BEAR DOWN.
Phoenix, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, Korean
Topics of Expertise
Sports, Entertainment, Science/Tech