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ESPN’s Massive Layoffs

espn-logo-old-school

The Worldwide Leader had yet another round of layoffs yesterday, shedding some top on-air talent.

Hollywood Reporter:

 

ESPN president John Skipper made the announcement on Wednesday, noting that “changes” in the talent lineup will be implemented this week.
ESPN will shed 100 staffers, most of them on-air talent, as the network works to retrench in the wake of falling subscription revenue, increased rights fees and a more concerted focus on digital content.

ESPN president John Skipper made the announcement on Wednesday, noting that “changes” in the talent lineup will be implemented this week.

“A necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions,” Skipper wrote in a note to employees posted on the network’s website. “Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent — anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play — necessary to meet those demands.

“These decisions impact talented people who have done great work for our company,” Skipper continued. “I would like to thank all of them for their efforts and their many contributions to ESPN.”

Skipper’s full statement is here; it’s rather cold but I suppose there’s no warm way to fire a lot of people. The release did not include the names of the personalities being let go but many of them took to Twitter to deliver the news.

The release did not include the names of the personalities being let go but many of them took to Twitter to deliver the news. Deadspin has compiled a running list.  The names that most stood out to me: Ed Werder, Jayson Stark, Jim Bowden, Jim Caple, Len Elmore, Trent Dilfer, and Danny Kanell.  Calvin Watkins and Jean-Jaques Taylor, both of whom I followed for their Dallas Cowboys coverage for years before they migrated to ESPN, were also among the casualties.

It’s always a blow when talented people lose their jobs but the continued downsizing is not surprising; the shakeup of the industry and the woes of ESPN in particular have been a constant topic of discussion on the sports talk shows and podcasts I listen to. Eter Kafka and Rani Molla break it down for recode. The short version: “Its content costs are rising as it pays ever-increasing fees for rights to show college and pro sports. But its subscriber base is shrinking as pay TV customers cut the cord or never sign up for it in the first place.”

For years, ESPN had a virtual license to print money. It was simply the game in town for televised sports coverage–the one sector that seemed immune from the DVR time-shifting that has been killing the advertising-based model for the industry. People love live sports and had for years been willing to pay ever-ballooning cable/satellite bills to see it.

Over time, though, the younger generation—and the less affluent—have simply given up, preferring to rely on streaming through an ever-increasing set of options. Even though I pay more than $200 a month for DirecTV, I still watch a lot of programming via Netflix and Amazon. And, while it’s not a realistic option for myself as a single father with young kids, it’s easier than ever to find a sports bar that’s showing the games I want to see.

Even though I’m of the generation that came of age with ESPN, I watch much less than I used to. SportsCenter, once must-see television two or three times a day, is now superfluous. Unless I’m stuck in a hotel room somewhere, I literally never watch it. I can get the scores I want instantly via my phone, including the ESPN app. And I prefer to curate my sports commentary via podcasting.  While I still DVR ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” I’ve long since drifted away from the pioneering “Sports Reporters”—whose cancellation was announced some time back, although it’s still on the air for a few more weeks.

And even before cord cutting became a big thing, I never really understood ESPN’s signing seemingly every moderately-famous athlete upon their retirement from the game. I’ve long since stopped watching the pregame studio shows but even when I was a regular viewer, the value of having six dudes taking turns speculating on the outcome was less than obvious.

I hope those who lost their jobs yesterday find gainful employment soon. Sadly, though, the newspaper industry, which was where most made their names, is in even worse shape than ESPN. Fox Sports is certainly on the rise and there are numerous relatively new online outlets.

UPDATE:  Forbes contributor Jerry Barca adds a useful coda:

The news story is about an entity as powerful as ESPN succumbing to the changing landscape of sports TV consumption.

The leadership story though is about how those who lost their job handled the life-changing news.

The downsizing was public. With news of the impending layoffs reported ahead of time, it became internet viewing du jour. Media outlets continually updated posts with a running list of who had just lost their job.

It started at about 9:30 in the morning in the East when longtime NFL reporter Ed Werder tweeted about his being laid off. As it continued throughout the day one thing became clear, faced with the loss of a job, the income and a dream, many of these people found a way to express gratitude.

They handled this with grace and class. Their words, mostly written in the 140-character space available on Twitter, were absent of bitterness and resentment, and instead acknowledged the career opportunity and the relationships they had built.

Of course these departure statements send a desirable message to potential future employers. Clearly, these people know how to respond to difficult situations.

Beyond that though handling your public dismissal with such tact shows the character of who these people are, and that’s something a lost job can never take away.

Indeed. On both the end of “Around the Horn” and the beginning of the 6 o’clock “SportsCenter,” which I caught only because I record PTI, there were touching tributes from the colleagues who were spared. Oddly, the PTI hosts did not mention the incident.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Sportscenter has become like cable news. They need to fill X number of hours per day and that means they end up endlessly repeating the same reports and talking about the same things. Add that up across all the various ESPN channels and it’s easy to see why people are tuning out. Especially, as you said, now that we live in an era where you can get instant updates about the teams you follow on a smartphone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. Bill says:

    ESPN was the wave that changed television sports reporting. Now the wave is consuming ESPN.

    Anyone remember the days you’d wait for shows This week in the NFL, Game of the Week, etc to get your football highlights. I can still hum the NFL films music from the 1970s.

    In 1986 I can remember tuning CNN’s Sports Sunday to find out if an LPGA golfer who I was a friend of had won a tournament. CNN weekend sports shows provided the news on many sports but with little film content in their broadcasts.

    This post almost makes me nostalgic for Kiner’s Korner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. James Pearce says:

    Laying off talent isn’t going to save ESPN from the cord-cutters and a stand-alone offering won’t be the money-maker their carriage contracts are now. They might just have to acknowledge that their product –sports coverage– is just less valuable than it once was.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. al-Alameda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Sportscenter has become like cable news. They need to fill X number of hours per day and that means they end up endlessly repeating the same reports and talking about the same things. Add that up across all the various ESPN channels and it’s easy to see why people are tuning out.

    Dead on, exactly.
    ESPN has plenty of competition. When I want NBA highlights, games and banter, I watch the NBA Cable Channel, not ESPN. The same with MLB – the MLB Channel, not ESPN.

    I was wondering when ESPN would reach this point. Here they are.

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  5. @Bill:

    For baseball fans it was “This Week In Baseball” which usually aired on early Saturday afternoons in my neck of the woods.

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  6. @James Pearce:

    Another factor cutting into ESPN’s model, of course, is the fact that all the major sports leagues have their own channel now, with content from around the league and specials that ESPN doesn’t gain access to. The same is true of NCAA conferences such as the SEC and Big Ten. There are a lot more sources for information than just one channel now and ESPN is likely losing eyeballs because of it.

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  7. @al-Alameda:

    Of course I made my comment above before seeing you’d already made it for me. 😀

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. Pete S says:

    This makes me wonder what sports are going to look like in 10 years time. If networks are having trouble making back the rights fees they are paying, at some point the rights fees have to come down. The leagues have seemed to be creative in finding new revenue streams but at some point if you are taking a billion dollars a year from ESPN out of revenues for the NFL or NBA there are going to be some pretty nasty CBA talks.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @Pete S: Yes. And the NFL, in particular, is absolutely screwing ESPN, feeding them garbage games for the Monday Night Football package.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. James Pearce says:

    @al-Alameda: @Doug Mataconis: Absolutely. I’m an NBA – NFL guy and get my fill from their respective networks.

    Never really had much use for Stephen A…or even Skip.

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  11. @James Joyner:

    To be fair, they’ve also fed garbage games to The NFL Network. The Thursday night games have on average been less than compelling.

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  12. Hal_10000 says:

    I understand their position, but shedding valuable people is always the prelude to a business collapsing. I’m seeing a LOT of brick-and-mortar stores trying to compete by cutting down on salespeople and customer service. And it always dooms them because people are the one thing you CAN’T get on the internet. What ESPN has to sell is commentary and analysis. If they’re cutting into that, they’re just hurting themselves.

    (Also, doesn’t help that they’ve made their website, formerly one of the better ones, almost unusable. This “ipadization” of websites needs to stop.)

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  13. Joe Gage says:

    I was most irritated by the dismissal of Ed Werder. As a Cowboy fan, I always enjoyed listening to Ed on Sunday GameDay. You could tell he was always prepared and obviously respected by the Dallas organization and players. He never was exciting and made himself part of the story which is probably why they let him go. I have every confidence that Ed will catch on with one of the networks before the beginning of the next season.

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  14. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Joe Gage:

    I was most irritated by the dismissal of Ed Werder.

    Agreed…and Trent Dillfer who I’ve thought was outstanding on Monday Night Countdown.

    As a Cowboy fan, I always enjoyed listening to Ed on Sunday GameDay.

    Not to bust your stones…but it’s been over 20 years since it was called GameDay. Since 1995 it’s been called NFL Countdown.
    So maybe that’s part of the problem???

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  15. Joe Gage says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    Haha, I always call it GameDay. I will though admit as a Cowboy fan I’ve veered more to the NFL Network pre game show with Michael Irvin the last few years, but I’ll surf over to ESPN and Fox too.
    I’ll cut my cable before I’ll ever watch the CBS show. I was also sorry to hear about Dilfer. The MNF crew has always been kind of dysfunctional, but Dilfer was always the exception.

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  16. Tyrell says:

    Look at some of the sports. NFL: over exposed, late starts, long games. Baseball: long, tedious games; name recognition missing, but Cubs resurgence helped. NBA: probably moving up with big name stars James, Curry, Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Wall. NHL: probably holding steady. College basketball and football: probably moving up. NASCAR: in trouble. Long races. Star drivers retiring.
    I had hoped that another network would give ESPN a run for its money. Fox is okay. NBC and MSNBC would be good candidates to go entirely sports, especially since their “news” aspect has hit the rocks.

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  17. Eric Florack says:

    Hmm.

    On Thursday, SportsCenter anchor Linda Cohn admitted that the huge staff reductions announced this week are a result of the network’s penchant for broadcasting politics instead of sports.
    Daily Wire
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    ESPN Anchor Admits Network Failing Because Of Politics

    Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Paley Center for MediaPhoto by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Paley Center for Media
    BY: HANK BERRIEN APRIL 27, 2017
    15512 226 85151
    If those who feel that the reason ESPN is sliding off the cliff is their insistence for waxing political while ignoring sports needed ammunition, they’ve got it now: a famed ESPN host who has served the network for 25 years agrees with them.

    On Thursday, SportsCenter anchor Linda Cohn admitted that the huge staff reductions announced this week are a result of the network’s penchant for broadcasting politics instead of sports.

    Appearing on 77 WABC’s Bernie and Sid Show, Cohn said one reason for the cutbacks was the political nature of the network’s programming. She stated, “That is definitely a percentage of it. I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”

    When asked if ESPN’s coverage of athletes such as Colin Kaepernick and Caitlyn Jenner was a factor in the network’s plunge, Cohn agreed. The issue of Jenner’s 2015 ESPY Arthur Ashe Award surfaced, raising the question of why Jenner was chosen instead of basketball player Lauren Hill from Mount St. Joseph University, who battled cancer before dying three months before the ESPY ceremony and was honored with the cover of Wheaties cereal before she died, or marathoner Noah Galloway — who lost an arm and a leg in the Iraq War.

    http://www.dailywire.com/news/15835/espn-anchor-admits-network-failing-because-hank-berrien

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