As a consumer of sports, I am a consumer of ESPN. I used to devour the pregame and post-game studio shows enjoying them equally as much as the live sports themselves. Now I am an older cynical man-child beaten down by the struggles of adulthood. If I tune in for a game a little early and the studio show is still airing I hit mute and I immediately turn off the stream when a sporting event has concluded. The cliché filled empty talk with strategically placed pop culture references is a torture to watch.
Now I tune in for ESPN solely to watch games, often on mute with a record playing in the background to avoid the side line reporter spewing nothingness into the microphone. The noise surrounding the games to fill up many 24 hour channels has reached a saturation point that I found unbearable long ago.
The great thing about ESPN is that if offers a variety of ways to consume sports banter. Personally I listen to podcasts of ESPN radio shows that I find interesting. ESPN is like a restaurant with a wide selection of dishes, I don’t particular like the sizzling obnoxious fajitas, so I order the simple chicken strips with ketchup.
Yesterday ESPN laid off 100 on air personalities and reporters. Many of these people are recognizable names which received attention across all forms of media. ESPN is entering a new world where a majority of their future viewers do not watch TV. Including myself, millennials are cutting the cord and aren’t overpaying for cable or satellite TV. This hurts ESPN more than most networks as they received a percentage of everyone’s cable bill regardless if they watch ESPN or not due to their insanely smart TV deal they penned over 35 years ago. In the past 7 years or so ESPN dropped from being in 100 million homes to around 88 million. They lost the potential of 12 million viewers and that additional monthly fee from 12 million households.
Those 12 million households didn’t just stop watching ESPN because they no longer liked the network, they cut cable all together. Insinuating ESPN lost 12 million viewers due to its programming strategy is just false. Those 12 million people cut all channels.
The cord cutting phenomenon is only going to increase leaving ESPN in a tough spot as they have fresh and incredibly expensive TV deals with the NFL and NBA. Staring at the writing on the wall, ESPN begun the downsizing effort to adjust to the market.
ESPN conducted layoffs back in 2015 but they were mainly of behind the scenes faceless workers. The cuts yesterday involved big names like Ed Werder, Danny Kanell, Jayson Stark, Jay Crawford, and Trent Dilfer.
Personally I was bummed about the layoffs because a lot of people lost their jobs and a daily show I listen to is no more. I haven’t missed an episode of Russillo and Kanell since its inception in 2015. Kanell was a perfect match with Ryen Russillo and I was sad to see him go as the show was evolving into something unique and he had a deep knowledge of college football.
Most of my sadness came from the unavoidable reaction from social media. The never ending outwardly sexists and racist attacks on ESPN personalities like Jemele Hill, Stephen A. Smith, Papi LeBatard, Mina Kimes, Bomani Jones, and many more put me in an angry hopeless state I haven’t visited since election night last November.
I don’t like the 6pm SportsCenter hosted by two hip black host or the embrace debate culture of First Take like many people, but I understand their existence. SportsCenter is a failing institution and branding specific time slots of SportsCenter with names like Michael Smith, Jemele Hill, and Scott Van Pelt is a way to draw viewers.
The competing FS1 and their personalities have been attacking ESPN for years claiming they lean to the left politically and are pushing an agenda that a majority of the country doesn’t align to. Many people have jumped onto that bandwagon created by a fledging network to gain viewers from ESPN who has a 30 year head start on FS1. The ironic thing is that FS1 lost 12 million households just like ESPN did. The “stick to sports” toxic rhetoric is being led by a network that is suffering from the same capitalistic forces.
The people who don’t like these shows and attacked the hosts who weren’t apart of the cuts on twitter yesterday in an angry rage and shared screen caps of being blocked by them like a trophy are worse than words I can find in an online thesaurus.
Claiming that ESPN is failing because it isn’t pandering towards white middle American god fearing republicans is a lazy of way of expressing their displeasure towards programming intending for a younger audience. ESPN still has the rights to live sports most of the public cares about so those furious right wingers are still going to tune into ESPN to watch college football regardless of who is hosting SportsCenter and if Stephen A. Smith is still shouting at Max Kellerman.
Bryan Curtis, a writer for the The Ringer wrote it perfectly yesterday stating:
“if you see someone saying ESPN got comeuppance for its “agenda,” they have, in nearly every case, just revealed their own.”
ESPN employees who were apart of the April 26th 2017 cuts (more names will probably be revealed over the next few days):