ESPN's 'ESPY Awards' tank as sports take back seat to social issues, inspirational stories

ESPN’s annual 'ESPY Awards' attracted only 482,000 total viewers across ESPN and ESPN2 on Sunday night, a precipitous drop from the previous low of 1.98 million total viewers back in 2011, according to TheWrap.

The annual awards show was strikingly different this year, as the entire broadcast was virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. There was no red carpet, certain awards were scrapped altogether because the pandemic has shortened or canceled many seasons, and much of the event was instead dedicated to social issues and inspirational stories. Russell Wilson, Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird hosted the virtual show that focused largely on race, equality and the coronavirus.

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It was the first time in five years the 'ESPY Awards' aired on ESPN, as the recent editions were on sister network ABC. While a downtick in viewers was expected with the move back to cable, the staggeringly low audience of only 482,000 was surprising nonetheless.

“In an admittedly flawed comparison, last year’s show on the broadcast channel, hosted by Tracy Morgan, drew 3.9 million viewers,” TheWrap ratings guru Tony Maglio wrote. “The prior low for the ESPYS came in 2011, when the show drew 1.98 million total viewers. This was less than one-quarter of that audience.”

"The prior low for the ESPYS came in 2011, when the show drew 1.98 million total viewers. This was less than one-quarter of that audience.” 

— Tony Maglio

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The ESPYs featured a variety of segments on racism, such as NFL star Malcolm Jenkins discussed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, calling for immediate change.

“The ESPYs shifted its focus towards the impact of the coronavirus on the world of sports and how communities have responded, as well as highlight sports’ role in the nationwide protests against racial injustice,” Maglio wrote.