ESPN was the center of the media world when they laid off/did not renew contracts of 100 on-air personalities, reporters, and writers. ESPN, the self-titled “Worldwide Leader in Sports”, has been the leader in sports entertainment for nearly half a century now. The tide is clearly shifting and there are plenty of reasons to speculate why.
Social Media and Technology
It may feel like it was decades ago, but we did not always have all the information we ever needed in the palm of our hands. Technology and social media has impacted every single industry, but it was clear it was also a factor in the ESPN layoffs.
In the old days (pre 2010?), we had to wait until 11:00 PM or the next morning to watch all the highlights for the day’s action. In high school, we had SportsCenter on all day in our senior lounge and every time “Top 10” plays were on, we would all watch. During lunchtime, students from all grades would stop in their paths to watch the countdown because they did not see last night’s games. Now? If you follow the right accounts on Twitter and Instagram, you can watch every highlight on your phone as soon as it happens. If you are tuned into your phone, you most likely are keeping track of all the scores as well, so an hour show dedicated to sports highlights and scores is essentially useless in 2017.
Cutting The Cord and League Networks
This point can circle back to technology, but the need for cable and satellite is becoming less and less as time goes on. Between streaming services, YouTube, and the depths of the internet, you can honestly find whatever you want to watch at anytime.
Over one million American households cut the cord in 2015. ESPN really only has four types of content: SportsCenter, league specific shows, “hot take”/debate shows, and live sporting events. Live sports is the only one you have to tune into. I went over how SportsCenter is irrelevant and people are quite frankly sick of the First Take format.
On April 10 the Bayless-led Undisputed drew 86,000 viewers.
On same day/slot: Press Your Luck drew 192,000 the Game Show Network. https://t.co/sFcZGjgKsV
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) April 24, 2017
Now I know this obviously isn’t ESPN, but these poor numbers indicate how sick the public is of the “debate everything until your eyes pop out” format.
Costs grew with the heavily priced live programming, such as the NBA, and viewership dropped. It is simple economics. ESPN pays $1.9 billion for Monday Night Football, $1.47 billion for the NBA, $100 million for the AFC Wild Card Game (which was a Derek Carr-less Raiders vs. the Texans), $700 million to the MLB, $608 million for three college football playoff games, $225 to the ACC, $190 million to the Big Ten, $148 million to the SEC, $120 million to the Big 12, and $125 million to the Pac 12. They also have a 20-year commitment with the Longhorn Network, investing $295 million into it and paying $10.98 million per year with a 3% increase annually.
For the league specific shows such as Baseball Tonight and NFL Live, I know many people who would rather put on the MLB and NFL Networks instead. Since this is baseball season, let’s take MLB for example. Say you get home late after a long day and you just want to know what happened around the league today. Are you going to tune into SportsCenter, where they are likely debating something, or are you going tune into Quick Pitch, where you can watch what happened in 30 minutes and the bottom line just focuses on what you want to know?
Whenever you want to just watch about a specific sport, which I can say is more likely, you are going to tune into the league networks, not ESPN.
Deflategate/Tebow/Romo/Johnny Manziel/LeBron James/The Warriors/Whatever Else ESPN Beats Into The Ground
People simply got sick and tired of hearing about the same people and storylines each and every day. These storylines got overanalyzed, overexploited, and made you go crazy and change the channel when it was brought up for the 100th time that day. It drove even the most loyal viewers way.
Reasons Why ESPN Is Falling:
1) Highlights Are Seen Right Away on Social Media
2) Overdoing "Hot Takes"
3) Political Bias
— SportsBlogNewYork (@SportBlogNYC) April 26, 2017
This isn’t easy to explain since it all depends on your view. From the reaction we got on Twitter with our tweet, our point of political bias definitely got the most agreement. The most outspoken person on this topic has been Clay Travis. Travis points out that ESPN is losing 10,000 viewers a day and believes one major factor is the network’s political agenda. At about $7 a month for a subscription, the decline in viewership has cost ESPN over $1 billion.
One topic that many people bring up is Caitlyn Jenner. In June 2015, Caitlyn Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYS. Caitlyn Jenner is the face of transgenders around the world and this was one of her first public appearances. Bruce Jenner was a world-class athlete in the 1980s, so ESPN decided to honor his decision to go under transformation at the ESPYS. This politicized sports.
ESPN become the platform for the transgender movement, one of the most politicized topics in the country at the time, and still is to this day. Fans tune into sports to get away from the world, politics specifically. The two together simply rubbed people the wrong way. Their sports world now become a vehicle for social and political activism and that is something they never wanted.
One year later, Curt Schilling was fired over a tweet he sent with his view of the transgender bathroom topic. Whether you agree with Schilling or not, he was expressing his First Amendment right and giving his opinion on the matter, which was one of the biggest topics in the country at the time. Schilling is a proud conservative who was giving his opinion and was fired because of it.
Schilling’s view on this matter had absolutely nothing to do on his analysis of baseball or how he can give commentary in the booth. He was fired for nothing that had to do with his work at ESPN. ESPN is a private company and has every right to do that, just as Schilling had every right to say or tweet whatever he wants.
Caitlyn Jenner and Curt Schilling were on two polar opposite sides of a political topic. Neither said or did anything violent. Both used their freedoms to support their opinions. One was fired and one was given an award.
No Lively Personalities
Quick, can you name five exciting/known radio hosts, reporters, or on-air personalities.
Scott Van Pelt, Adam Schefter, Stephen A. Smith….uhhhhh…Mike Greenberg, and Rachel Nichols.
Mike Greenberg is on in the morning and gives vanilla analysis and commentary. If you are tuning into sports talk radio on your morning drive in New York, you are listening to Boomer & Carton 10 times out of 10. Your national syndicated radio host should not be one of the five people that came to my mind.
SVP is probably the best and most respected on-air host that is left on the network. Unfortunately for him, he hosts a dying show. He does try to make it more like a talk show with segments, but it just isn’t working
Rachel Nichols is a great reporter and now host, but she isn’t going to carry your network. Schefter is the best “scoop” guy in the business (ehh maybe it’s Woj) but he also cannot carry your network.
Stephen A. Smith is now the most polarizing figurehead at the network. He does not give analysis or really break any stories. He gives his opinion, and gives it loudly. I personally have no problem with Stephen A., but I also do not watch First Take. I like him in doses on local New York radio, so I definitely don’t consume or know much of national TV Stephen A.
Once the most popular personalities such as Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd, Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, and Erin Andrews left, ESPN lost who they were. Now you tune into mostly any show, you really don’t know or care about the person on TV. They all come off as the same and robotic.
ESPN is still the first company you think of when you think about sports media. They still have a long way to go to consider them “failing”, but it isn’t the same ESPN we grew up with.
The Top 10 doesn’t mean anything anymore.
There’s no top-tier analysis.
We know the scores and stats as soon as the game ends.
We see the highlights as soon as they happen.
ESPN isn’t dead, but it sure needs to reinvent themselves before it’s too late, if it’s not already.