Jimmy Pitaro: ESPN Data says ‘fans do not want us to cover politics’
ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said the sports media behemoth will move away from covering the political angles of the sports world because market research revealed their viewers would rather focus on what’s happening on the field.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Pitaro also pinned some of ESPN’s previous trips into the political waters on its commentators not understanding what was expected of them.
“Without question our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics,” Pitaro said. “My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them. If you fast-forward to today, I don’t believe they are confused.”
Pitaro, 49, became president of ESPN in March 2018, a few months after John Skipper surprisingly stepped down. (Skipper later revealed he was concerned about a cocaine-related extortion plot against him.)
During Skipper’s tenure, some ESPN shows and personalities began speaking up more about politics, and for a time its flagship program “SportsCenter” was hosted by Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, who often chose to have cultural or political discussions over showing game highlights.
Throughout the decade, politics and sports news also continued to intersect from Colin Kaepernick starting the kneeling-during-the-anthem protest to bring attention to police brutality and racial inequality, to Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay NFL player, as well as President Trump frequently commenting on sports issues or disinviting championship teams like the Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia Eagles from visiting the White House.
Disney czar Bob Iger told the Los Angeles Times that research has shown him ESPN’s brand is doing better under Pitaro’s tenure than it was a few years ago.
“In general, if you look at what Jimmy’s performance has been ... it’s been really positive,” Iger said.