ESPN gathered its front-facing employees Wednesday at its home base in Bristol, Connecticut for a two-hour summit. According to ESPN’s official release on the meeting, the gathering included two primary messages: 1. ESPN is fine. 2. Stick to sports.
Per ESPN, president John Skipper told employees, “At the end of this meeting I want you to be confident about the future of ESPN,” before describing various company strategies, including the maintenance of the network’s rights portfolio and its ESPN+ venture.
Later, Undefeated editor-in-chief Kevin Merida reviewed ESPN’s social media policy, emphasizing that on-air personalities should stay away from non-sports issues. That message comes about six weeks after the network published new social media guidelines limiting who can break news on Twitter and warning against overtly political posts. Per ESPN, here is what Merida, who led the effort to write those guidelines, told the assembled crowd Wednesday:
“ESPN is a journalistic organization – not a political organization. We should do nothing to undermine that position,” he said. “ESPN’s focus is sports. By-and-large we are not experts on politics, healthcare policies, terrorism, commerce – that’s not what we do.
“Our audience is not looking for our opinions on the general news of the day,” he added. “And believe me, I get it. It can sometimes be difficult to control impulses or ignore trolls, but that’s what we’re called to do for each other.”
The stricter ESPN social media policy is presumably a response to the controversy that engulfed the company over the summer after Jemele Hill called Donald Trump a white supremacist on Twitter and the White House called for her firing.
The next part of Wednesday’s program might raise some eyebrows. Per the ESPN release, the company had anchor Sage Steele interview sales and marketing executive Ed Erhardt in what sounds like transparent tangle of editorial and business operations. The fact that someone whose job is to sell advertising addressed a group of reporters and sports analysts certainly lends some extra credence to the longtime claim that ESPN lets its business interests bleed into its content.
Obviously the official ESPN account of the summit wouldn’t reflect any tension or discord, nor would it reveal any message execs might have shared that isn’t for public consumption. But it does give us a sense of the agenda items at the gathering, which was important enough that attendance was mandatory for all front-facing employees, and what ESPN wants to convey to its rank and file at the end of a rough year. Essentially, the takeaway seems to have been that the company is better off if everyone pipes down a little.