ESPN’s dominance list indicative of its decline

Jess Kaplan, Staff Writer

Over the past 40 years, ESPN has transformed the way we watch sports by establishing themselves as a broad-reaching multi-million dollar corporation consisting of a 24-hour broadcast network, a strong internet presence, and a print magazine. ESPN built its empire off of the idea that sports is more than just a game: they are about the tension, the athletes, the pressure riding on the game, and of course, the play-by-play commentary.

ESPN is at the forefront of the way we consume and analyze sports. In fact, they have been central to creating new sports (such as the X-Games), popularizing once overlooked sports (such as college basketball) and turning non-sporting events (such as the NFL draft) into large scale productions. Yet in recent years, ESPN has been unable to fulfill their self-proclaimed title as “Worldwide Leaders in Sports.”

For instance, ESPN has lost 13 million television subscribers worth $1 billion in profit over the past six years. The company is now facing similar problems that plague the cable industry and other sports media companies as younger generations prefer new purely digital competitors (such as Barstool Sports) and politically conservative viewers have criticized the network for a liberal bias. Additionally, ESPN has experienced numerous scandals – the company’s president was caught in a cocaine trade, the network has struggled handling anchors who speak out against President Donald Trump, and harsh budget cuts causing over 500 employees to be laid off.

Now, ESPN is facing a different controversy after releasing a list of the most dominant athletes of the past 20 years. The athletes “dominance ranking” was determined by a five step process. First, ESPN’s Peter Keating and his team evaluated the top athletes from the highest ranked league in every sport. They then rated the athletes in their past 20 regular seasons. Next, Keating and his team tightened their focus to only the top four athletes in each sport, then adjusted the data to be on the same scale and finally added up their results to compile their list. It is important to note that this list focused solely on the athlete’s dominance in their sport, rather than their all around popularity. This explains why athletes with immense fame and large sponsorships were left off the list.

While all the athletes on the list are incredibly talented and prominent in their sport, there were many surprises in the order of the list.

For one, Tiger Woods received the coveted number one ranking. Although Woods is a distinguished golfer, his career peaked a decade ago and has failed to truly rebound from a combination of injuries and personal issues. Furthermore, Serena Williams is ranked 12th, even though she has won 23 grand slam singles titles and is a trailblazing African American female athlete. The list also excluded many legendary Olympians, including Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles.

Perhaps the reason this list is so controversial is because of the widespread belief that fame is often intertwined with talent. Yet this list proves the opposite. For instance, Patriot fans were disappointed that Tom Brady was ranked below Peyton Manning. While Brady (for better or worse) is the most talked about player in the NFL, he is arguably not as talented as Manning.

ESPN is clearly still finding its footing in a culture that favors an athlete’s fame over their talents. And with their steady decline in ratings, it is possible that the end of ESPN is in the foreseeable future.

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