This Thursday, ESPN is not going to stick to sports. The network announced Tuesday that they will simulcast President Obama’s ABC News-hosted town hall on shootings across America:
Also simulcast on ESPN and WatchESPN https://t.co/H2ItNTub6o
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) July 12, 2016
Here are clips of ESPN announcing this on their SportsCenter broadcast live at the All-Star Game Tuesday:
As CNN’s Brian Stelter notes, this will be a commercial-free, hour-long broadcast of a town hall taped Thursday afternoon. The broadcast will happen at 8 Eastern/7 Central. ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir will moderate the telecast, but it will also feature a prominent ESPN personality, with Jemele Hill joining Muir.
It’s also going to be broadcast well beyond ABC and ESPN across many of Disney’s other platforms, including Freeform (formerly ABC Family), ABC Radio, and ABC and ESPN’s various digital outlets, and it will be simulcast on digital platforms including Yahoo, ABC News’ Facebook page and ABC News’ YouTube channel as well. However, it’s the ESPN inclusion here that’s perhaps the most notable, given how intent that network has been on “no politics.”
Obviously, a town hall involving a sitting president (and one not running for re-election) is different than one involving a campaigning candidate, and ESPN has done features with Obama before on everything from Cuba and terrorism to NCAA bracket picks. This is also about a specific issue rather than who to vote for, so it isn’t particularly covered in that memo about election coverage.
Moreover, this is a Disney-led operation, so the decision to put it on ESPN likely comes from above. However, the decision to simulcast something like this on ESPN and include a prominent ESPN commentator (at least it’s not noted Obama critic Mike Ditka?) is definitely going to get some backlash from the “stick to sports” crowd, and the reactions from those who just turn on ESPN without knowing this is happening may be particularly interesting to see. Expect ESPN to take a lot of flak here, even if it wasn’t necessarily their call.