ESPN may have finally solved the National Anthem protest problem

ESPN has been suffering from some severely atrophied ratings of late to the point where they’ve had to lay off significant numbers of staffers. What could be going wrong? Plenty of people on social media were hinting that the network has gone far too political and it’s turning off viewers who are looking for recreation and an escape from all that Washington noise, but the executives at the network were sure they just needed the right formula of on-air personalities. Then they tried mixing up the variety of sports they cover. Unfortunately, they kept injecting themselves into things like the National Anthem kneeling protests.

Now, after none of that seems to have worked, they’ve hit upon a new solution which nobody thought of before. (/snark) They won’t be broadcasting the National Anthem before the games so they don’t have to talk about the kneeling players. (The Hill)

ESPN will not broadcast the national anthem before Monday night NFL games this season, network President Jimmy Pitaro announced Friday.

“We generally have not broadcasted the anthem and I don’t think that will change this year. Our plan going into this year is to not broadcast the anthem,” Pitaro said, according to an Axios reporter.

“Again that could change. It’s unpredictable what could happen in the world but as of now, we’re not,” Piatro continued. “We have communicated that back to the [NFL]. They have not asked but as a courtesy and good partners, we have let them know what our plans are.”

Golly gee, guys. That’s a humdinger of an idea. I wonder why none of us thought of it? Except that the fans have been suggesting it on social media for more than a year. Now if you could only get the rest of the networks who carry games to do the same thing we might be on the way to getting back to some good old-fashioned football.

This realization on the part of ESPN may be part of a bigger strategic shift going on at the network. The Washington Post reported this week that the President of ESPN has decided that the network needs to “focus more on sports and less on politics.” Ya think?

Jimmy Pitaro has been president of ESPN for a little more than five months and made clear Friday that he wants the network to focus more on sports and less on politics.

Pitaro said one of his top priorities has been to improve relations with the NFL. Those ties have been strained by ESPN investigations into player concussions and the sports network’s coverage of players protesting racial injustice and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem — issues that sometimes painted the league in an unflattering light.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with league executives,” Pitaro said Friday. “The relationship is incredibly important to us. That programming cuts across everything we’re doing on the studio side, on the original content side. And we’ve made that very clear to the NFL.”

Pitaro wants to mend his network’s relationship with the NFL, but also with his potential viewers. It’s obviously the right move but you have to wonder if it won’t turn out to be too little, too late. Once people change their viewing habits and the technology they use to access content, it’s a significant challenge to draw them back into the fold. More and more viewers, particularly in the younger demographics, have been “cutting the cord” and accessing their sports programming online. There’s always somebody willing to offer competing content and if they’ve settled into those patterns now they may not have any interest in returning to ESPN as must-watch television. But if they’re serious about leaving politics to the cable news networks I’m willing to wish them the best in their efforts.