TFPP reported recently that another round of layoffs was in the works at politicized sports network ESPN, and now we have a more concrete idea of just how bad the damage will be.
Sports Illustrated reports that multiple sources have told them ESPN is going to be laying off more than 100 employees after Thanksgiving, with positions in every area from TV personalities, producers, and executives to digital and technology staffers on the chopping block. The layoffs are expected to take a particular toll on the SportsCenter franchise:
The network declined comment to SI on Thursday afternoon.
Though hiring has continued and the network remains one of the great destinations for jobs in sports media, ESPN has experienced significant layoffs over the last two years. In Oct. 2015 the company laid off roughly 300 employees, about 4-5% of its workforce—a particularly brutal act of gutting given the long tenures of many of those who were cut. Many of those employees helped build the foundation of ESPN and had given their professional life to the company […]
Part of the reason ESPN will conduct the moves in late November/early December, two sources said, is to get employees an additional year in the stock vesting program.
Last month Michael McCarthy of Sporting News first noted a round of layoffs were coming to ESPN.
If you have endured layoffs at your place of employment, you know how extraordinary awful they are. Multiple ESPN employees in speaking with SI said the atmosphere in Bristol is tense, especially in the SportsCenter division. Asked to characterize how employees are feeling, one longtime on-air anchor offered one word: “Queasy.”
On October 27, TFPP reported that the now-confirmed layoffs were expected to be “painful.”
Sports Illustrated’s report attributes ESPN’s woes exclusively to the “changing habits of consumers including cord-cutting and cord-nevers” and the “rising costs of sports rights,” which are surely factors.
But it’s hard to deny with a straight face that another substantial factor at work here is the National Football League generally alienating viewers from watching sports and sports coverage due to their handling of players protesting the National Anthem, and specifically ESPN personalities injecting politics into programming — from Jemele Hill slandering President Donald Trump as a white supremacist, to Max Kellerman suggesting Colin Kaepernick is noble for disrespecting the “political” national anthem, to a network so fixated on political correctness that it pulls announcers from games for happening to share a name with controversial historical figures.
The reasons why all of this has been ratings poison could not be more obvious. For one thing, half of your audience is guaranteed to be annoyed no matter which side a sports talking head takes on any given political issue (and it doesn’t help that at ESPN it’s nearly always one particular side).
For another, people like following sports to get away from the troubles and headaches and heaviness going on in the real world, to recharge their batteries for a few hours with something fun and to stir their passions on something ultimately inconsequential. When arrogant entertainers forget that they are entertainers and take away their audience’s ability to do that, it’s no wonder that they’ll change the channel and look for a new escape somewhere else.
Will ESPN wise up while they still have employees left to lose? Let us know your predictions below!