All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday and I’m headed up to St. Louis for the SEC men’s basketball tournament so I’m cranking on the mailbag late at night on Thursday.

Hope to see several of you guys in St. Louis. I’ll be in The Home Loan Expert suite for all four games on Friday and then both games on Saturday as well.

As always, remember, if you need a mortgage go to TheHomeLoanExpert.com and tell them Clay Travis sent you.

At the top of the mailbag I want to share this clip with you from the Disney annual shareholder meeting yesterday.

Disney CEO Bob Iger was absolutely grilled about ESPN’s decision to embrace left wing politics and what it means for the overall brand. In particular he was asked why ESPN had turned into a political network and why Jemele Hill was able to call Donald Trump and all of his supporters white supremacists and receive no punishment.

I believe this entire clip is a fascinating window into modern politics.

As you heard yourselves in the above clip, Iger attempted to sidestep the question — how, exactly, did he deal with Jemele Hill’s comments and her reiteration that she stood by those comments? By doing nothing at all? — but I think this raises a larger question that I’ve been thinking a great deal about lately as I work on my new book which will be out in stores this September — why do CEO’s feel compelled to get political with their companies in any way?

Embracing left wing politics at ESPN has been disastrous for their brand and their company’s standing, but it’s a mistake that I see playing itself out everywhere, most recently with the CEO of Delta in his bungled response to the NRA discount provided by his airline. If you aren’t familiar with this story Delta allowed discount for members of the NRA to fly on its airlines. The most recent discount had been used by 13 people to travel to the NRA’s annual meeting.

Let’s presume that discount, which couldn’t have amounted to much, led to Delta taking $200 off the listed airfare for each of these customers. (That’s probably too high, but let’s presume it cost Delta a grand total of $2600.) In the wake of the school shooting, Delta probably fielded a couple of media inquiries about the NRA discount and it’s likely that left wingers on social media and the blogosphere circuit started to speak out about the discount and ask why it existed.

Fearful of the stories that might emerge and the existing social media blowback in the wake of the school shooting, Delta panicked and said it would no longer provide any discount to NRA members.

The backlash to Delta’s decision was immediate and substantial, politicians in the state of Georgia, Delta’s home state, removed a tax subsidy that would have saved the airline $50 million. Fifty million! And all because Delta felt compelled to weigh in on a contentious political issue.

If I were a Delta shareholder, I’d be furious.

All Delta had to do was say it provided discounts for individuals from a variety of political organizations across the political spectrum. And if it wanted to end those discounts for political organizations it could have easily removed all of them at once the story died down. Or, in what would have probably been better business, it could have just left things as they were and not changed anything and maintained that it was being content neutral in offering discounts to major political organizations from all walks of American life.

Instead, it tried to avoid “bad news” and social media discord and cost itself $50 million.

And what did Delta gain from the decision?

NOTHING.

There isn’t a single person in America who was going to change their travel plans because Delta gave an NRA discount to members who flew the airline and there isn’t a single person who wasn’t flying Delta that now is going to start flying Delta because they ended the NRA discount.

Not one.

I honestly believe that.

Moreover, if you are losing business because some people are changing their airlines over your NRA discounts, are those really customers who are going to stop flying your airline in the future? Even if there are a tiny, tiny subset of people adjusting their behavior, are they really going to adjust their behavior forever? (Remember that United Airlines saw zero impact on its earnings after it dragged the Asian doctor off the plane.)

I don’t believe there is a single person in the country who would choose not to fly Delta or to fly Delta over this issue. This story is completely manufactured outrage with no actual impact.

That’s especially the case if Delta offers the cheapest and/or more convenient route to where you want to travel. In other words, that’s especially the case if Delta does its job.

If you fly non-stop to where I’m taking my family and you offer a cheaper fare, I don’t care what political organizations you provide a discount to, I’m taking your airline. Hell, I wouldn’t even care if the CEO of Delta had come out and said, “I hate Clay Travis and hope his business fails.” I’d still fly Delta if they were cheaper and more direct and otherwise I was going to have to change planes with another airline and spend all day traveling somewhere that would have otherwise been an easy non-stop trip.

Who in their right mind cares what Delta thinks about the second amendment and, more importantly, who in their right mind is advising these CEO’s that they should worry about what customers think about the second amendment? Here’s what I wish Delta’s CEO cared about — ensuring that Delta had the best goddamn wifi of any airline on the planet.

Instead of worrying about gun rights, how about you make it so the wifi actually works on your airplanes? Make it so I can write an article on Outkick and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can publish that article while I’m flying across the country. Because right now not one airline in America’s wifi is good enough for me to be confident I can pull this off.

My point on this is simple — focus on what your business does and leave politics by the wayside.

The vast, vast majority of American consumers do not care what corporations think about contentious political issues. We just don’t. We care about whether you deliver the best possible value to us as consumers. I feel like companies everywhere are falling victim to social media activists and media inquiries about non-stories and overvaluing what those people are saying.

I get it, it can be terrifying if you get 100 people all making threats to you in the same day on social media. But, guess what, that happens to me every single day. And it doesn’t matter what opinion I’ve shared. I guarantee I have been told thousands and thousands of times that (insert person here) will never read, watch or listen to what I say because of (insert opinion here).

And then guess what happens?

Those people don’t actually stop reading, listening or watching Outkick. At least not as long as I continue to be smart, original, funny and authentic. That’s because social media isn’t real life, it’s just a place for people to vent and pretend to all be WWE listeners. What’s more, those 100 people might well actually be 10 people with ten different accounts each trying to manufacture outrage to make you believe it’s more substantial than it actually is.

Much of social media is completely fake.

And the truth of the matter is this, as long as you do a good job at your core business your audience is never going to leave over things that don’t involve your core business.

Chick fil A is a great example. Do you know how many people changed their behavior at Chick fil A over politics? ZERO. Do you know why? Because Chick fil A’s chicken sandwich is so good. (You can also argue Chick fil A had no business getting involved in politics either, but when you aren’t open on Sundays you’re kind of branding yourself as a religious company. So are people really going to be surprised when a religious company has religious political opinions. If anything this actually helped Chick fil A’s overall brand because it served as evidence that they actually practiced what they preached.) Plus, there are thousands of gay people every single day who eat at Chick fil A. Do you know why? Because they love the product.

 

My advice for every company in America is this, find out what you do and do it better tomorrow than you were doing it today. And then repeat that every day for as long as you can. That’s how you go from good to great. And if something in America isn’t connected to your goal of making your company better at what it does? DON’T WORRY ONE IOTA ABOUT IT AND IGNORE ALL SUGGESTIONS THAT YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT IT.

And, by the way, fire all your PR staff and just put me on retainer to answer every question your CEO might have. Because I guarantee I’m better at it than they are.

Dave F. writes:

“On Thursday’s radio show you made the comment about Peyton Manning possibly attracting viewers to either Fox or ESPN as a broadcaster.  I would definitely be interested in listening to Manning call games.  It got me thinking about sports media personalities.  Outside of maybe a handful (Harold Reynolds, Doc Emrick, SVP, Dan Patrick, Cowherd/Leahy and you) there are very few sports media personalities that I truly think are good at their job.   
Does anyone ever listen to Mike Golic and think “wow, this guy is great radio”.  Who actually watches Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe and believes those two have anything remotely intelligent to say?  To be fair and give full disclosure, I disagree with many things you say but I listen because your takes are well thought out and you at least back up your statements.  I used to love the old SportsCenter’s with Keith and Dan, Rich Eisen and Stuart Scott. Linda Cohn!? Who doesn’t love Linda Cohn?  Now it’s utterly unwatchable.   
Lest anyone question if politics play a role here, I am the guy who spent half time and post game of the Super Bowl making sure all cans and bottles were recycled…it’s safe to say I’m a liberal.
 
Are we just doomed? The league networks have become my “safe space” for just highlights but I also love college sports and there’s no alternative for those.
 
Help!”
This ties in with the point I was making above — and the point I’m making in the new book I’m writing — know what you do and deliver for that audience.
I think it gets even more important with each passing day. Because we used to live in an era when someone could decide they liked you and you’d become famous if you were on the right TV network or the right show. That’s why ESPN always believed their talent could leave and it wouldn’t impact them. Because their thinking was pretty straightforward — the network is the star, the talent is interchangeable.
But I think the success of Colin Cowherd in particular has rattled them. Cowherd moved to Fox Sports Radio and FS1 and his audience followed him. His podcast numbers are incredible, he’s the most downloaded national radio show in the country by a large margin.
You may not like Skip Bayless, but Skip moved his show to FS1 and a substantial number of people followed him to FS1 and left behind First Take. Now maybe that is only 30% of the overall audience, but that’s a big number of people to leave. (ESPN has artificially boosted the First Take numbers in the wake of Skip’s departure by moving the show from ESPN2 to ESPN. But if you look at year over year growth now that First Take has been on ESPN its viewership is down around 20% while Skip’s on FS1 is still growing.)
I think ESPN used to have a clear business model — we give you more sports highlights than anyone else anywhere in the country. And, and this was also key, we can distribute our games to more people than anyone else. So if you were a league that wanted to grow your brand you absolutely had to be on ESPN to get your product out to the masses. That was the ESPN I grew up with.
Now both of things are not true. You can see sports highlights the moment they happen anywhere on social media or any number of websites. And, and this is key, the distribution costs for sports content are moving towards zero. So if you’re a fan of a team they can now reach you directly with their games. (Most of them still aren’t doing this because they have existing contracts, but they could do it).
So what’s ESPN got that fans can’t find anywhere else? Opinionists? The Internet is awash with opinion. That’s almost all social media is. How many of those ESPN opinions are particularly interesting or unique? Not that many of them. Breaking news? The moment news break it’s commoditized on the Internet so there’s almost no value in breaking news anymore.
Good opinionists are rare. Just like all talent is rare. How many actual difference makers are there in the sports media space? Everyone’s list would differ, but I think it’s fair to say most people aren’t difference makers. Hell, most people can’t even come up with an interesting opinion and defend it.
So how do you get an audience if you work at a place that has lost its secret sauce, your employer is no longer the go to destination for sports highlights and, increasingly, games too? You say polarizing things like Donald Trump is a white supremacist. Sure, it has nothing to do with your employer’s core brand and it alienates a huge segment of their audience, but you get lots of retweets. Which might be good for an individual person’s brand, but it’s not good for the network’s brand.
If Jemele Hill was employed by JemeleHill.com and she made a living as an opinionist there, more power to her for being controversial and serving her market. But she’s not. She has an audience because she’s at ESPN. And they pay her salary. When you get paid by a large company you’re in the business of making their brand look good. And the moment you don’t, why should they employ you? It’s always hard to quantify brand value, but I think it’s likely Jemele Hill has cost tens of millions of dollars in lost brand value to ESPN over the past couple of years. And she hasn’t made them anything. In fact, she’s probably been the worst hire in the history of ESPN’s nearly forty year brand.
It’s funny because I’m always branded controversial, but I honestly don’t think I’m very controversial at all. I just say exactly what I think every day. And that’s become so rare — true honesty — that it strikes some people as controversial that I say or do what I say or do. If you sat down with my wife and quizzed her on my political beliefs or on my opinions in general, she’d tell you that I say and write the exact same things that I tell her. And if you quizzed people who knew me pretty well, say my former law school classmates, I think they’d tell you that I sound pretty similar to how I sounded in law school back in 2004.
For better or worse, most of my opinions haven’t changed at all, the world has just changed around me.
I think ESPN — and many people in sports media in general — haven’t come to grips with the changes in our industry and that’s why you see so much flailing around. Many people are drowning and as they go under water they’re trying to take down other people with them.
The result is brands have to be smarter and focus on what they do best. It’s astounding to me how many brands, whether it’s Delta or ESPN, still don’t see this.
Hope to see some of y’all in St. Louis and I hope you have fantastic weekends.
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