ESPN had a bad day. The network, which is the leader in sports, has been through a series of layoffs that included not only workers behind the camera, but also many on-air talent who were well known and/or have worked for the network for a long time. The layoffs affected broadcasting or studio hosting jobs in many professional leagues.
The network did not mention specific names in an internal email that was unattributed. Instead, it announced the changes through its agents and social media.
As the day progresses, it is possible that more will be added. The number of people released and their stature are shocking, but it was also hinted at earlier this year. Disney announced its layoff plans in March. At the time, it was noted that ESPN could release top talent. Some of the names leaving are familiar to viewers, but some also represent institutions within the network.
Steve Young was the NFL voice for the last 22 years. Kolber’s 27-year career with the network came to an end. Ellis, the college basketball analyst at ESPN, has been with the network for 14 years. Van Gundy has been a part of NBA broadcasting for over a decade. Todd McShay has been with the network for six years and is considered one of the top NFL Draft experts. The list of names that are being added is causing a tremor in the sports world.
ESPN is currently undergoing a period where it is repositioning itself within the Disney corporation. Disney is dealing both with market challenges as well as self-created controversy that has led to failed product launches. Before the 7,000 layoffs announced in February last year, it was decided to make ESPN a separate division, as the returning CEO Bob Iger would be removing the Media Distribution structure within the company.
ESPN will be reorganizing its finances and changing the broadcast structure. It is also aiming to cut down on seven-figure contracts with unproven commodities or personalities. There are a lot of changes happening in both radio and television, involving talent and programming.
Pat McAfee signed a multi-year contract worth more than $8 million per year last month. This is in direct contrast to the purge of programming today. His popular video and radio shows are expected to be a boon to the network as ESPN faces competing realities. The sports broadcasting rights are increasing, but the subscriber base is decreasing with the cord-cutting trend.
While viewers have fled to other platforms, sports are still the main draw for cable and broadcast networks. The result is that more and more games dominate the top of ratings charts today, giving professional leagues bargaining strength, while the networks struggle to stay afloat with the decline of the rest of their broadcast schedule.
The desk clearing events of today confirm that the sports broadcasts with which we are familiar will look and feel very different in the months to come.