The language of layoffs

ESPN, which threw way too much money at sports leagues for the right to broadcast games, took its mistake out on its employees again today when it chopped some high-profile personalities, more than a year after it gutted 350 behind-the-camera employees.

ESPN has lost over 10 million subscribers because of cord-cutting in recent years, a number that’s likely to grow significantly if those who still subscribe to cable TV are given the right to pick which networks they don’t want to pay for.

ESPN president John Skipper sent a letter to his employees today, that included all of the usual rhetorical food groups of layoffs. Words like “nimble” and “dynamic” and everyone’s favorite: “strategic vision.”

ESPN has been actively engaged throughout its history in navigating changes in technology and fan behavior in order to continue to deliver quality, breakthrough content. Today, we are again focused on a strategic vision that will propel our vast array of networks and services forward.

A necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions. Our content strategy – primarily illustrated in recent months by melding distinct, personality-driven SportsCenter TV editions and digital-only efforts with our biggest sub-brand – still needs to go further, faster…and as always, must be efficient and nimble. Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent—anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play—necessary to meet those demands. We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week. A limited number of other positions will also be affected and a handful of new jobs will be posted to fill various needs.

These decisions impact talented people who have done great work for our company. I would like to thank all of them for their efforts and their many contributions to ESPN.

Our objective in all we do is to best serve fans and their changing consumption habits while still maintaining an unparalleled and diverse talent roster that resonates with fans across all our platforms. We will continue to foster creativity and investment in the products and resources necessary to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.

Thank you as always for your continuing dedication to our work.

What most of that means is sports fans don’t want to watch SportsCenter anymore. They’d rather just watch video clips on their smartphones.

Analysis? You can get that when Joe from Blaine calls the local sportstalk radio station. It’s free.

Many of the ESPN employees have taken to Twitter to announce their own layoffs and, in one case, lament that they’re now stuck with a house in Bristol, Conn., a city where the unemployment rate is still stuck around 6 percent.

There’s a little something for everyone in the layoffs.

Even the National Review had a takeaway, saying the layoffs are the result of ESPN becoming “a left wing sports network.”

Middle America wants to pop a beer and listen to sports talk, they don’t want to be lectured about why Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, Michael Sam is the new Jackie Robinson of sports, and Colin Kaepernick is the Rosa Parks of football. ESPN made the mistake of trying to make liberal social media losers happy and as a result lost millions of viewers.

The National Review said the fact that hockey coverage took a significant hit in today’s layoffs is a sign that ESPN doesn’t recognize its political problem. It said hockey is the least political of all sports.

Investors? They’re often thrilled when people lose jobs. At midday, Disney stock was off its session lows.

  • Gary F

    And they have become too political. Not the only reason for their demise, but one of many.

    When you want to see sports highlights, especially when you don’t follow a team on the coast, except for maybe the Cavaliers, you have other choices.

    I don’t want to see their feature stories or listen to their bias anymore. I can go someone else.

    • Gary F
    • bri-bri

      Can you give some examples of ESPN becoming political, Gary? Beyond their coverage of the Donald Sterling/Clippers fiasco and other high-profile issues, I haven’t noticed much in the way of political leanings.

      • Gary F

        Canning Curt Shilling, giving Kappernick hero status, giving Kaityn Jenner an award, pushing gun control, etc….

        • Firing Bill Simmons for making fun of Roger Goodell, who doesn’t like Tom Brady, who does like Donald Trump.

          • Gary F

            Didn’t even know he was canned. My ESPN watching lately is at the gym watching it with the sound off and on captions. I see if the Top 10 or Twins are in the rotation, or I just ignore it.

        • Will

          The coverage of Michael Sam was a bit over the top considering no one has any idea where he is now…he essentially disappeared.

          • The “first” tends to get coverage.

            But the entire NFL draft is over covered to begin with.

          • Will

            Yeah, the last couple of years I’ve become less interested in sports in general…I like going to a game or two in a year but it’s hard to care until playoff time. I really enjoyed the NFL for quite a long time but now I only watch Vikings games on delay to save 2 hours of my life. The draft is over hyped but this year I didn’t even realize it was tomorrow until I tried to make plans last night. Maybe I’m just getting too old for all of it.

          • It’s amazing how much one can get done by not watching sports.

            And the best announcers are still the ones on radio.

          • Gary F

            Herb Carneal told this story.

            Halsey Hall was discussing a couple in the stadium getting affectionate, on the radio, he said “he’s kissing her on the strikes and she’s kissing him on the ……”

            Halsey kept on announcing while the rest of them turned off their mikes and left the room .

          • tboom

            Ray Scott, Herb Carneal and Halsey Hall. Not exactly the highly polished on-air personalities we hear today.

            A broadcast team like that will never make it on air again.

          • Will

            I just started a business, got my LLC paperwork back yesterday… you’re right I am accomplishing a lot more without watching sports. Although I am still playing slow pitch softball once a week.

          • >>Although I am still playing slow pitch softball once a week.<<

            Is that even a sport?

            😉

          • Will

            Indoor softball is a bit of a workout, outdoor is a social event with beer that gets interrupted by a softball game. I do walk ~5 miles a day (when it’s not raining or snowing) to give myself and the dog a workout.

          • I know, i was just giving you the business.

            😉

            /Used to play SPSB.

          • tboom

            Not on the Twins and Vikings networks.

          • Gary F

            the worst week of the year to listen/watch sports media

        • BJ

          Sports have been political from the beginning of time.

          Keith Olbermann is and was one of the best on ESPN, he made that channel in the mid 90’s – to say they have become more liberal would be very hard to do.

          • Gary F

            Is he six foot above or below ground? I never hear of him. There is a name I forgot, even in a contentious election season.

          • BJ

            Keith Olbermann is a target of the right for being a darling of the left – I’m sure you know who he is. He was the face of ESPN for most of the 90’s (91-92 to 97-99) came back for 2-3 years around 2010.

          • Gary F

            Sorry, I worded it wrong. I don’t hear much from him anymore.

          • He and Dan Patrick the first time around were the best there ever.

            “That’s a 6-4-3 double play if you’re scoring at home, or even if you’re alone.”

            Classic.

          • BJ

            Yep. it still makes me smile thinking of the deadpan way it was delivered.

        • Postal Customer

          Dude, Curt Schilling is an A #1 a-hole.

    • Will

      I agree the coverage of the NFL had become more politicized but that was driven more by player actions.

      • Postal Customer

        Or the people who reacted to those actions.

        • Will

          Yep true on both sides, I don’t need to see videos of fans burning their jerseys either.

    • lindblomeagles

      I think too many people commenting on this thread are making a huge deal over politics. Saturday Night Live, for crying out loud, is political, as are lots of Late Night Entertainment Talk Shows, but I don’t see anybody complaining about that. Some films that hit the theater are political, like the one about the three African American women involved in the NASA program this past January. And I’m really surprised Gary, of all people, is complaining about politics in sports because Gary frequently provides political commentary on News Cut topics. Look, you can rerun highlights of the same games for so long before people tune out. You can’t just do sports highlights 24 hours a day.

  • bri-bri

    Fifteen years ago, ESPN alone made cable worthwhile for me. Their coverage of live sports remains excellent, but everything else slowly lost its appeal. SportsCenter used to be an institution: now it shows a smattering of highlights between contrived “debate” segments and extended plugs for Disney movies. Once respectable, Pardon The Interruption has devolved into hot takes and shouting matches.

    I stream cable channels via Sling TV. When I discovered they offered a package that excluded all ESPN/Disney stations, I pounced on the opportunity to vote with my dollars, and it seems I’m not alone. ESPN will undoubtedly survive the exodus, but it’ll be interesting to see what it becomes in the next 5-10 years.

    • lindblomeagles

      15 years ago (2002), I think is when Disney bought ESPN, and Disney now owns a host of Cable TV stations.

  • Gary F

    If the Twins were to win the World Series again, the head line story that day on ESPN would be Joe Torre’s prostate exam results, with pictures.

  • Will

    Honestly this is all about customer choice, no one wants to pay for ESPN with their high prices for 3-4 channels that are rarely watched. I switched to Sling TV recently and I can choose between 2 packages, I picked the one without ESPN because the channels are just better…all the channels I want for $25/month. ESPN hasn’t adapted and dropped their asking price with the decline of their products.

    • The only live sports I watch anymore is baseball and the MLB $120 season package is perfect, especially since I follow an out of market team.

      Which brings up the real evil in the sports world — FoxSports and its insistence that local games be blacked out.

      • Will

        I get FSN in my Sling TV package…best thing ever did with TV was switching to Fox package over the Disney/ESPN package.

      • Al

        We’d gladly pay for MLB online if the Twins weren’t blacked out. As it is now, we use my mother’s online FSN account when she’s staying with us. Mostly. *ahem*

      • tboom

        True evil for sure.

  • Zachary

    But will I still be able to watch Dodgeball on ESPN 8 (“The Ocho!)??

  • Bob Sinclair

    Umm…what hockey coverage? With the exception of the NCAA Frozen Four, there was no hockey coverage (unless you count Barry Melrose, and IMO should n’t be allowed near a hockey rink). NBCSN does all of the broadcast hockey coverage now.

    • Bob Sinclair

      BTW if there was hockey coverage, wouldn’t that mean ESPN covers the right wing, left wing, and center as well as the defense?

  • MikeB

    Saying ratings is due to politics is just projection. 20 years ago people watched the highlights to see the results of the game. Now everyone knows the score, no need to wait til 10:00 to find out. Live events still draw big ratings, and most likely will (until all games are Pay Per View)

    • lindblomeagles

      100% right Mike. Thanks.

  • Gary F

    Not sure if its on a podcast or not, but I wasn’t in control of the radio dial this winter on a long car ride and the Mike and Mike radio show was on. They had Chris Berman on for the whole hour talking about the early days of ESPN. That was one of the most interesting radio hours ever. The behemoth we know as ESPN was once a struggling station and shooting from the hip as both they and the cable industry grew without a real plan. Very interesting listen even if you are not a sports fan.

    • I THINK the first iteration of ESPN was radio as I remember going through the mail with the program director at a radio station I worked at and there was a flyer for ESPN and an all-sports format. We couldn’t believe anyone would be so stupid as to program nothing but sports.

      Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

      • Jerry
      • MikeB

        All those hours of Australian Rules Football programming actually turned into something.

    • crystals

      If you liked that podcast and enjoy a good book, you might want to check out this one on the founding and evolution of ESPN. I thought it was pretty interesting.
      https://www.amazon.com/Those-Guys-Have-All-Fun/dp/1609410750

  • lindblomeagles

    I vehemently disagree with the National Review. Caitlin Jenner and Michael Sam WERE NEWS because Jenner was a generational icon PUBLICLY changing his sex and Sam was coming out in football, a sport drenched in masculinity. If a football Head Coach said, for example, Bill Belichik really wishes the NFL wasn’t integrated, THAT WOULD BE NEWS. The National Review, in describing ESPN”s layoffs, once again speaks TO THEIR OWN AGENDA, an agenda that pretends everything good in this country derives from White Anglo Saxon Protestant Christian people. The truth is American Sports has a) BECOME TOO EXPENSIVE; b) BECOME TOO NUMEROUS; and c) EMBRACES TECHNOLOGY. Today’s generation does get their information via Smart Phone. They don’t watch as much TV as we think. Older individuals have started to use Netflix and other RENTABLE alternatives that literally are MUCH, MUCH cheaper than Cable. Soccer, Hockey, Baseball, Basketball, Football, Auto Racing, the COLLEGE games and the Little League World Series – we’re saturated with sports, and their on ALL THE TIME. These problems have led to ESPN’s woes, not ACTUAL JOURNALISM.