Disney chief Bob Iger strongly denies ESPN exhibitsa liberal bias. But try telling that to respondents in a new poll.
In a survey conducted byBarrett Sports Media, a sports media consulting company,60.8 percent of respondents said the networkhas a "left-leaning agenda." Only 3 percentsaid ESPN tilts right politically.
Still, a significant portion of respondents — 36.2 percent—believeESPN is neutral. Or they couldn't detect bias.
The majority of the1,363 people who completed the surveyMarch 7-14 were "sports media consumers,"said Jason Barrett, owner of Barrett Sports Media. His10-question ESPNsurvey uncovered some other troubling indicators for the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
Asked how they feel about the "current state" of ESPN TV shows, a majority (52.5 percent) called them"weak."
Only 2.8 percent"love" them and 27.3 percent thinkthey're"OK."
Barrett got a similar response when he askedabout ESPN's on-air talent.
A majority (40.6 percent) described today's cropas "underwhelming."
However, abig chunk(34.8 percent) think the talent pool is "solid."
Unfortunately, 19.1 percent think ESPN's castis "terrible."
Among current shows on the air, respondents like "First Take" and "SportsCenter" the least.
The most-liked shows are "Pardon the Interruption," "Baseball Tonight" and "College Gameday."
ESPN and parent Disney have long maintained that ESPN (and sister network ABC) play it down the middle politically.
But the fact that Iger was asked about alleged liberal bias at the Disney shareholder meeting indicates that criticism by FS1's Jason Whitlock, Outkick the Coverage's Clay Travis and the conservative Breitbart.com is having an impact.
Whitlock, for example, calls his former network "EPCN." He thinks the network's politically correct stance on many issues is costing it viewers — especially in red states that voted for Donald Trump.
"Sports culture is not PC or far left. There are no safe spaces in the field of competition," Whitlock told me in an interview. "Ithink we can differentiate ourselves from EPCN by discussing sports in a way that is authentic to sports culture and sports fans. You can be authentic without being distasteful or disrespectful. Sports culture has long been patriotic, tolerant of diverse backgrounds and perspective and celebratory of meritocracy."
But Iger shot down a shareholder at the annual meeting who accused ESPN of becoming the sports version of MSNBC.
"The charge that ESPN is exhibiting significantpoliticalbias is just a complete exaggeration," said Iger, via the Los Angeles Times.
It's not just competitors who wonder about ESPN's political leanings.
Bob Ley of "Outside the Lines" is reputed to be one of the few political conservatives in Bristol. The anchorworried to ombusdman Jim Brady that ESPN's politicsare becoming too obvious.
"We've done a great job of diversity,” saidLey. “But the one place we have miles to go is diversity of thought."
Bias or no, ESPN remains a TV juggernaut.
For the first quarter of 2017 ending March 26, ESPN was the top-rated, full-time cable network for total day and prime time among theadvertisingfriendly 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54-year-old male demos.
“Thanks to the allure of live sports, ESPN’s strength among the key young male demographic groups has been its strong suit since our 1979 launch,”Artie Bulgrin, ESPN senior vice president, global research and analytics, saidin a statement.