ESPN is Cutting their Own Lifelines

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ESPN

Wednesday, the worldwide leader in sports, said they would be letting go over 100 of their staff. In the hours following tweets began to roll out with news of those affected.

This isn’t the first time ESPN has pushed for large-scale cuts, as they laid off hundreds in 13′ and 15′.  However, it is a stark reminder as to where ESPN is in 2017.
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In recent years, ESPN has been struggling with a decrease in viewership across the board. Moreover, they’ve been making questionable creative decisions with their personnel.

ESPN
Memo from ESPN executives

On Wednesday, ESPN informed Yahoo it would be making cuts to its staff. There wasn’t any definitive list of who was let go; most people found out when the person put it out there on Twitter themselves. Among those that were let go was Ed Werder, Trent Dilfer, Jay Crawford. Their entire hockey department is in shreds and has severely cut down their number of MLB analysts.

Coupled with the firing of notable NBA reporters Ethan Strauss, Calvin Watkins, and Justin Verrier. The companies most recent moves have been sporadic, given the money they continue to flood into SportsCenter. These latest cuts come less than a year after the companies’ new NBA broadcasting contract came into effect.

It is strange that ESPN chose to make cuts now while both Hockey and Basketball are early in the playoffs. Stranger still, given how much money they’ve committed to revamping SportsCenter even though it’s no longer filling in chief purpose. The internet and social media sites like Instagram and Twitter have become quicker and more efficient at doing what ESPN had a monopoly on for two decades. ESPN’s own website makes the need for SportsCenter obsolete and thus comes their dilemma.

ESPN intends to change the direction of their audience and appeal to a younger demographic. They have made efforts to do so with ‘The 6‘ and the growth of shows like ‘First Take.’ However, they have done this while sticking with televised content. They have taken a dip into the world of podcasting with brands like ‘NBA Lockdown,’ ‘The Bill Barnwell Show,’ and most importantly, ‘TrueHoop.’  Although on Friday it was announced that ‘TrueHoop’ founder Henry Abbott would be among those let go. Coupled with veteran reporter Marc Stein and NBA Draft specialist Chad Ford the network has devastated their NBA coverage team.

For those who experienced TrueHoop, in any of its mediums, will tell you that this is a travesty. Beloved by its listeners and one of the more unique and defined voices in a media landscape flooded with noise. This is why the letting go of Abbott, Strauss, Watkins and Verrier makes little sense for ESPN.

The company will need bright minds if they are to survive the changing media landscape yet has consistently let go of creative minds. Presumably, Barry Melrose, Tim Kurkjian, and others will also feel the effects of these reductions. Baseball and Hockey will undoubtedly see what little time they already had on the network and other mediums reduced in the coming months.

ESPN is stuck in purgatory with declining cable subscriptions; they have less base money coming in. Although, after just signing a huge rights deal with the NBA they are finding themselves caught in the middle of the new and old mediums. The Comapany is losing money while still being the most popular sports coverage network of any of it’s competitors.

However cutting ties with the talented minds inside the company will only lesser the interest of the company. ESPN has been aggressively turning themselves into a one trick pony. At this point, the network only puts any time and money (a lot of money) into NFL and NBA coverage.

ESPN’s long-term survival will be entirely dependent upon their ability to adapt. Online content appears to be the way of the future, for now. Consequently, if more people continue to drift away from traditional, they’ll be forced to either transition their content to online formats or fold. No matter what the future holds for the company, the letting go of such talented and experienced journalist, reporters and analysts only lessen the depth and quality of their content. ESPN will need to learn to let people and products grow which is something they’ve had trouble with since they’ve been in Bristol.

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