ESPN Dumps Outdoor Programming
By Don Jordan
May 26, 2010
The rumors had been wafting around the outdoor communicator community for some time, as we watched newspaper after newspaper fire their fulltime outdoor writers and eliminate traditional hook-and-bullet coverage. Many one-time national outdoor magazines are barely afloat, and advertising revenue for the outdoors has dried up across the board.
But ESPN entered the picture in a major way when the cable network began offering a full menu of hook-and-bullet coverage in the 1980s. Many of you will remember that Jerry McKinnis' The Fishin' Hole was ESPN's first outdoor program, beginning in 1980. McKinnis' show was the second longest running program, next to Sports Center, when McKinnis retired a few years ago.
The network began broadcasting the Bassmaster Classic and the so-called "Tournament Trail" in 2001. On April 4, 2001, BASS and ESPN announced the network's purchase of BASS and of The Bassmaster Classic tournament. At the time, outdoor writers speculated that the ESPN would kick off a new, dedicated outdoors channel, but that never happened. Even in the good times, outdoors-related advertising money was not abundant.
Now, as America struggles with a nagging recession and job losses, advertising revenue for outdoor program production has evaporated. Big advertisers and bass tournament supporter Ranger boats was among the many brands sold into oblivion last year. Only firearm and ammunition companies have thrived in this market.
ESPN still owns BASS and the classic tournament, so it will continue to broadcast that programming, but all other outdoor programming that now airs on Saturday and Sunday morning will be dropped. Here is ESPN's current schedule:
I have watched a few of the Bassmasters tournament programs over the years, and tune in to see my old pal Jose Wajebe's Spanish Fly. The program originates in Key West where I met and fished with Jose in the early 90s. He is the real deal, a great fisherman and good company. His program will jump to one of the several networks that now cater to the outdoor "niche." Those channels include the Outdoor Channel, the Sportsmans Channel and VS plus a few regional network programs.
Of course, the network's fall lineup includes hunting programs that will also be dropped at the beginning of 2011.
Besides the sliding revenues of the last two years, there is some evidence that politics came into play in ESPN's decision. According troutunderground.com ESPN managers were outraged when a BASS writer (a ESPN employee) went "birther-level" whacko over a claim that President Obama was going to put an end to sport fishing.
ESPN does everything it can to avoid the poisonous politics that have fractured the country. The writer was fired and ESPN decided the outdoors is way too political (see BP Gulf oil mess) for their pablum programming, spiced up with sex and drugs on the side.
During our radio program this week, Buddy Bill and I agreed that most outdoorsmen and women would be outdoors on Saturday and Sunday mornings anway, except when it is 20 below zero. Who does watch outdoor television programming? ESPN no doubt knows, and a lot of these people are now without jobs. Their audience is on the way to the poor farm and the companies whose products they bought are not advertising like they did.
No matter what I say or think about it, ESPN made the outdoors a big time, national thing. It publicized professional tournament fishing like to magazine or newspaper ever could and reached big audiences.
To me, the fall of outdoor television isn't unwelcome. There is a lot of questionable behavior involved in producing some of ESPN's programs, especially hunting programs. "Canned hunting" businesses where animals shot inside fenced compounds are often featured "huinting" grounds on all television hunting shows.
R.I.P. outdoor television, outdoor writers, outdoor magazines and newspapers.