ESPN, the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” does not seem to be living up to their nickname. The sports media empire surprising displayed its vulnerability to the rapidly ensuing sweeping transformation that is disrupting the sports broadcasting industry as more people and relying on alternative sources for sports news as opposed to the quintessential television broadcast.
Over the past several years ESPN has lost more than 10 million subscribers while the cost of broadcasting continues its meteoric rise. ESPN is spending tens of billions of dollars in deals with the NFL, NBA, and NCAA. In order to increase profitability, ESPN was forced to partake in sweeping layoffs. In October 2015, it laid off approximately 300 people, most of whom were not on-camera employees. However, within the past few days, ESPN has laid off over 100 employees, including famous on-air broadcasters including NFL reporter Ed Werder, MLB reporter and former general manager Jim Bowden, former NFL players Trent Dilfer and Danny Kanell, former NBA player Len Elmore, along with many others.
Many of those laid off have been tweeting about it. Ed Werder tweeted “After 17 years reporting on #NFL, I’ve been informed that I’m being laid off by ESPN effective immediately. I have no plans to retire.” Just exactly where he will go, however, remains unclear. Most of the tweets were grateful as opposed to remorseful. Jay Crawford, former “SportsCenter” anchor, tweeted “After 14 wonderful years my time at ESPN is over. From Cold Pizza to First Take to SC I made more friends than I can name. Forever grateful!” Jayson Stark, baseball writer, tweeted “For 17 yrs I’ve had a dream job covering baseball for ESPN. Today is my last day. Thanks to all the great people at ESPN, MLB & all of you!” Now one can only wait to see if and where these famed broadcasters and analysts wind up.
John Skipper, president of ESPN, said, in a letter to his employees, that “difficult decisions” were being made. He continued to say that “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.” The world of broadcast sports is rapidly changing and headed in directions unclear at present. As people increasingly rely on their smart phones and computers for sporting news and coverage as opposed to their television, one can only imagine that the trend will continue and ESPN, along with many other competitors, will have to pivot their business models to adjust.
Bob Iger, Chief Executive Office of Disney, the company that owns ESPN, seems to be in agreement as he said in February that, “you have to be willing to either create or experience some distribution as we migrate from what has been a more traditionally distributed world to a more nontraditional distribution world… and some of that we’re going to end up doing to ourselves, meaning that we understand there is disruption, but we believe we have to be a disrupter, too.” With the increased use technology technology, sports is changing rapidly from the use of instant-replays in games to the way it is delivered to the public. All I can hope, as a sports writer myself, is that my job at My Weekly Sports is secure from layoffs.