Chicago Tribune – ESPN says it is eliminating 150 studio and production employees as the sports broadcasting giant continues to shift its focus to a more digital future. The company says the layoffs, which were announced Wednesday morning in a memo to employees, don’t include on-air talent and will have a minimal impact on the network’s signature SportsCenter news program. The company says it will grow its business in several key areas, including the planned launch early next year of “ESPN+”, an app-based service that will allow viewers to purchase sporting events a la carte. The 38-year-old network has been squeezed by rising fees to broadcast live events. ESPN also has lost about 10 million subscribers during the past six years, based on estimates by Nielsen Media Research. The sports broadcaster has about 8,000 employees worldwide. ESPN laid off 100 employees in April, including some longtime on-air personalities.
The one piece I was hoping to hear coming out of all this was that it would be primarily on-air talent. Not that you ever want to see anyone get fired, but seeing 150 behind the scenes workers get laid off rather than the bloated on-air personalities is a shame. ESPN has clearly gotten too big for its own britches, but axing the camera guy making $30K a year isn’t really going to fix the problem.
Overpaying for live sports broadcasting rights, declining cable subscriptions, and multi-million dollar contracts for hosts of shitty shows is whats dragging the network down. The company continues to reshape itself, but I’m not convinced ESPN knows what it wants to be exactly. Cutting the fat and saying that you want to be “more digital” is like a string of buzzwords you’d expect to hear from the incompetent boss at your 9-5 job, not a billion dollar media empire.
Aside from all the business missteps, the biggest issue at ESPN is the content itself, which is why hearing things like the layoffs “will have a minimal impact on the network’s signature SportsCenter news program” is disappointing. Thats your problem.
SportsCenter used to be the go to show right before bed and again right when you woke up. Obviously it was always going to lose a bit of its luster with evolving technology as everyone now has every score and update right in their pocket. But great content is the one thing people will always come back for. People didn’t love SportsCenter for the score updates, they loved it because Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann were doing something no one had ever done before. They loved it because Stuart Scott was entertaining and legitimately made it *fun* to watch mindless highlights of a Milwaukee Bucks game you didn’t actually give a shit about.
ESPN used to bring the content and the characters, but thats fading now and they’re struggling to figure out the best way to plug the holes. Is it bringing in fresh talent like Katie Nolan? Or maybe revisiting partnerships with the pirate ship they fear most in Barstool Sports? Who knows. What we all do know though is that its going to take a lot more than laying off some production employees and cameramen to get them back on track.
PS – Seriously, RIP to the GOAT Stuart Scott. I met him once while taking a tour of the ESPN campus and he was the nicest guy. Was with his little daughter and still took a minute to stop and shoot the shit.