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Bob Iger Thought ESPN Got Too Political

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Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger recently participated in a conversation with Matthew Belloni of The Hollywood Reporter. Belloni asked Iger about everything from the future plans for the Star Wars franchise to the #MeToo movement’s effect on Pixar to the company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets.

When the conversation turned to a shakeup at ESPN, Iger noted that he and Jimmy Pitaro, who assumed the role of President of ESPN in March, had his full support. He said they were in agreement over what needed to change at the network.

I have nothing but praise for the job Jimmy Pitaro has done at ESPN. There’s been a big debate about whether ESPN should be focused more on what happens on the field of sport than what happens in terms of where sports is societally or politically. And Jimmy felt that the pendulum may have swung a little bit too far away from the field. And I happen to believe he was right. And it’s something, by the way, that I think John Skipper had come to recognize as well. But Jimmy coming in fresh has had the ability to address it, I think, far more aggressively and effectively. He has brought back some balance.

Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing writes that on its face, Iger’s response seems like an overreaction. Jemele Hill’s tweets about President Trump, which was ESPN’s most high profile instance of not sticking to sports, didn’t even happen on ESPN’s airwaves. It happened on a host’s personal Twitter account. That can hardly be deemed an ESPN problem. He goes on to write that the idea of balance is more important than rolling back any host’s freedom.

But Iger’s pendulum analogy here isn’t a bad one. There is a balance of how much societal or political content should be worked in to straight-up sports talk, some did feel it was too much (even if at its peak, it was still a small fraction of everything ESPN was doing), and they appear to be doing less on that front now without completely eliminating it. Maybe it’s swinging the society/politics balance from five percent down to three percent (we don’t have actual numbers, obviously, but it would be interesting to calculate the total tonnage of comments on anything “away from the field” on ESPN and how that fits in with the massive numbers of comments on things on the field), and maybe Iger and Pitaro’s quest for “some balance” isn’t the wrong approach. And maybe that will help avoid some of the self-inflicted politics disasters, such as the comments ahead of “Get Up” that led to people completely misunderstanding the show, and couldn’t be corrected despite all the efforts to do so.

It should also be noted that Iger remained kind of vague about what ESPN’s policy regarding political and social commentary is now. “He has brought some balance” doesn’t mean that Pitaro has cracked down on anyone that offers an opinion on something that isn’t happening on a football or baseball field. The quote seems only to be an acknowledgement that Iger didn’t like some of the reasons that ESPN found itself in the news last year.

Sports TV News

ESPN’s NFL Programming Sees Big September Growth

For ESPN, September has been a really strong month with their NFL programming.

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NFL Studio

For ESPN, September has been a really strong month with their NFL programming.

Sunday NFL Countdown is averaging 1.4 million viewers per show thus far in 2022. That up 15% from 2021’s first three shows of the NFL season. The season premiere – Sunday, Sept. 11 – averaged 1.6 million viewers, tying the network’s best Week 1 audience for the show since 2016 and is up 35% year-over-year.

NFL Live experienced large growth too. The episode airing after the first NFL Sunday, on Monday September 12, averaged 664,000 viewers which beat every NFL Live episode last season, including the most-watched episode on 2021 (December 17) which grabbed 635,000 viewers.

Monday Night Countdown is averaging 1.3 million viewers for its two, non-staggered September episodes, which aired in its traditional timeslot (6-8 pm).

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Sports TV News

ESPN Assigns Broadcast Teams for MLB Wild Card Round

In preparation for the postseason, ESPN has assigned the broadcast teams for the series forthcoming.

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Wild Card
David Berding/Getty Images

There are just a few games left in the MLB season and the postseason begins this weekend with the Wild Card round. In preparation, ESPN has assigned the broadcast teams for the series forthcoming.

Andrew Marchand reports that the team assigned to the presumptive New York Mets Wild Card series will be Karl Ravech, David Cone and Eduardo Perez. The Mets still mathematically can win the NL East but they trail the Braves by two games with three to play.

He also reports that the St. Louis Wild Card series will be called by Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez. The Cleveland series will be broadcast by Boog Sciambi and Doug Glanville while the Toronto series will be called by Dave Flemming, Jessica Mendoza and Tim Kurkjian.

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Sports TV News

Stugotz: ‘Sean McDonough Hates The Aaron Judge Cut-Ins’

“If you look at the numbers, if you look at the interest, if you look at the revenue that it generates for the networks, it makes more sense to have an Aaron Judge at-bat interrupted by an Iowa State field goal attempt than it does the other way around.”

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College football fans are not being shy with how they feel about Aaron Judge. Whether it is private conversations or social media posts, people are making their disdain for the cut-ins to college football games on ESPN networks when the Yankee slugger comes to bat known. On Monday morning, Stugotz added that it isn’t just fans that are unhappy.

The Dan Le Batard Show discussed the second straight week of cut-ins on Monday morning. Stugotz pointed out that one of ESPN’s primary college football voices sounds just as annoyed as fans are.

“Sean McDonough hates the toss to Aaron Judge,” he said. Hates it!”

Last week, ESPN and ABC cut into games when Judge was sitting on 60 home runs. This week, he was sitting on 61. A 62nd home run would be the most in American League history.

Stugotz added that has to be part of McDonough’s frustration.

“In his defense, what are we cutting in for? I have no idea if [Aaron Judge] is breaking a record, what record he’s breaking, if he’s clean. I have no idea!”

Producer Mike Ryan Ruiz said the fact that Judge is yet to deliver is making the cut-ins more frustrating for fans.

“I think what hurts the whole thing is that Aaron Judge has been terrible during these cut-ins,” Ruiz said. “He’s been God awful during these cut-ins. I haven’t seen a single home runs during one of these cut-ins. There was genuine fury at a watch party I was at. Fury! At Aaron Judge.”

A popular criticism of ESPN has been that this kind of attention would not be paid to Aaron Judge if he was chasing a mark that wasn’t the home run record if he played anywhere other than New York. According to Ryan, the mistake is bigger than that. Why would regular season baseball ever interrupt college football?

“If you look at the numbers, if you look at the interest, if you look at the revenue that it generates for the networks, it makes more sense to have an Aaron Judge at-bat interrupted by an Iowa State field goal attempt than it does the other way around.”

There are four games left in Major League Baseball’s regular season. You can bet college football fans will make plenty of signs for College GameDay if Judge cannot hit number 62 before the playoffs start.

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