Discussing The ESPN Layoffs
For months now, the only things that have swirled more strongly about the ESPN campus than NFL free agent and draft rumors were rumors of impending layoffs from the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
But when the severance list of employees leaked out Wednesday, the force was like a hurricane across the sports media landscape, as 100 people from in front and behind the camera lost their jobs.
(Discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
In one fell swoop, ESPN cut loose such notables as longtime baseball writer Jayson Stark, NFL reporter Ed Werder, NFL analyst (and former Ravens quarterback) Trent Dilfer, radio host and college football analyst Danny Kanell, columnist Johnnette Howard, ESPNW columnist Jane McManus, former SportsCenter and First Take host Jay Crawford as well as a giant swath of the channel’s college sports writing staff.
In addition, longtime anchor Hannah Storm is reported to be taking a lesser role (for what one would assume would be less money.) And there are reports that the channel’s baseball programming may be so curtailed by the cuts that ESPN may go to MLB Network for some of its studio programming.
And before we go any further, if you’re inclined to express happiness at the loss of employment of these folks or others, kindly keep it to yourself.
These are human beings with mortgages and car payments and student loans to repay. Losing a job at any time is stressful, but to be out of work in these uncertain times is even more alarming, and it’s really bad form to dance on someone’s professional grave.
There had been a buzz since earlier this year when Sports Illustrated reported rumors that massive cuts were in the wind. Those rumors persisted through the winter, with some speculating that as many 70 employees, mostly on-air, would be let go.
Though Wednesday’s bloodletting was not as massive as the layoff of 300 employees two years ago – including Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons – it was, nonetheless, breathtaking in its scope and breadth.
In a statement Wednesday, ESPN President John Skipper said the layoffs were “A necessary component of managing change,” adding “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. We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week. A limited number of other positions will also be affected and a handful of new jobs will be posted to fill various needs.”
So, how did a behemoth of American media get in a position where it had to slice so much of its personnel?
The answer lies in cord-cutting, the practice among many consumers of getting rid of cable and satellite television and going to streaming outlets, like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, through devices like Chromecast, PlayStation Vue and Roku.
Viewers are not as bound to those ubiquitous boxes as they once were and ESPN, which typically charges twice as much per subscriber as the next most popular channel, has taken one of the biggest hits, losing about 20 million subscribers over the past five years.
Add that loss of revenue to the massive rights fees that ESPN pays to the NFL and the NBA, among other sports leagues, and it became clear that the World Wide Leader had to do something to cut costs.
Alas, that something meant that a lot of people – most of them very good at their jobs – paid the price Wednesday, a day where the fun and games of sports were anything but.