ESPN Expects to Part With 100 Staffers as Viewers Shift

ESPN John Skipper
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ESPN expects to part ways with 100 of its journalists, analysts, play-by-play specialists and other members of its talent pool as the Walt Disney sports-media juggernaut places more focus on its rejiggered “SportsCenter” lineup as well as digital content associated with that program.

A person familiar with the situation said those employees will come from the ranks of on-air talent as well as people devoted to producing reports for its print and online outlets. Already, Paul Kuharsky, a nine-year ESPN veteran who has covered the Tennessee Titans and southeastern NFL teams, indicated via Twitter that he did not expect his current contract to be renewed when it expires in July.

“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,” said ESPN President John Skipper in a memo sent to employees. “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 demand.”

Others who are leaving include Ed Werder, a longtime NFL reporter; Scott Burnside, an NHL columnist for ESPN.com; ESPNU anchor Brendan Fitzgerald; and MLB analyst Jim Bowden. As part of the ESPN review, some employees who are not part of the current round of layoffs could find their duties changed as a result of later contract negotiations, this person said.

The layoffs show ESPN, like many other media outlets, grappling with massive changes in the way people consume content – even live sports. It’s no secret the business has seen a general decline in subscribers over several years’ time, even as it continues to pay millions of dollars in rights fees every year to the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and other sports organizations to show the games that bring audiences to its screens. In October of 2015, ESPN laid off approximately 300 employees. Earlier that year, it parted ways with two prominent employees, Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann.

The tough trends have not dissipated. Sports viewing on Disney-owned networks, which accounted for 35% of the total year to date, according to Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser,is down by about 4%.

ESPN has in recent months focused primarily on retooling its flagship “SportsCenter,” aligning specific personalities with each edition of the program. Scott Van Pelt leads a late-night version of the sports-news show, while Jemele Hill and Michael Smith were recently brought to ESPN from ESPN2 to host the 6 p.m. broadcast, which has been dubbed “SC6.”

Executives at the Disney unit are placing more emphasis on mobile video – content that need not necessarily appear first on TV – as well as content related to flagship shows that is designed for digital viewers. As a result, the company placed new scrutiny on its employee base, according to the person familiar with the matter, working to determine whether people were suited to produce content across multiple media venues and whether costs associated with their employment resulted in a sizable enough return.

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  1. Steven says:

    ESPN is the Buzzfeed of the sports world. It’s great if you are a fan of New England/New York Sports and Lebron. If you are an actual sports fan, you’re probably well aware of how much better the individual networks are.

  2. Mitchem says:

    They went ultra-gay after Michael Sam who couldn’t make an NFL team and gave Bruce Jenner an award for wearing a dress. Then…ESPN imploded. It will NEVER recover.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Let’s face it, the hubris of ESPN, who were clearing hiring 3X the staff necessary for talent :anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play. Totally a waste of money. 10X the number of people and 1/4 of the actual talent of the their staff in the 80’s.

  4. Brian says:

    my gosh.. get rid of Jemelle Hill and her cohort.. I cant tell you the last time I watched ESPN sportscenter..

  5. michael s says:

    ESPN used to be fun to watch. Today’s coverage is more about promoting the network and the egos of their talking heads than actually covering sports. Its baseball coverage is nearly unwatchable as they seem to believe the game itself is not as important as the pointless “stories” they endless bore me with. They need to focus on the important content – the games.

  6. Ethan says:

    There isn’t much point to watching ESPN’s shows – it’s like they have 6-10 gossipy stories per half hour, then they rotate the personalities talking about them. “What I think about Lebron’s tweet is…” or “What I think about Russ’s eyeroll is…” Who cares?? I like when they show random sports – my friends and I got into an ESPN digital presentation of drone competitions, that was the type of thing that could really draw an unexpected audience. Even rugby games can suck you in. Watching a different crew dissect a bunch of nonsense? Eh, they can lose all the viewers in the world from that, in my opinion.

  7. Sean says:

    ESPN is losing. I watched SPORTCENTER at 6:00pm EST / 3:00pm PST everyday to set up the evening. Then they went to a personality driven talk show. What a disappointment. I have not watched it since and have dropped it off my DVR recordings. They have lost that “Championship Mentality” for sports reporting.

  8. godzilla502 says:

    ESPN made a conscious decision to side with NFL Commish in his unjust & dishonest attack of Patriots QB Tom Brady. While for the most part, the ignorant masses of the country liked seeing Brady & NE squirm, ESPN lost a massive block of fans. NE fans love sports. It’s in the bones. And while the rest of the country has moved on to the next subject, NE fans have not. They haven’t returned to ESPN. I cancelled my ESPN Mag subscription. Unless it’s a live TV event I can’t see elsewhere, I don’t watch ESPN.

    ESPN also started losing their top talent due to that top talent being censored. Olbermann, Simmons, Coherd & Bayless – while they haven’t had success they did at ESPN elsewhere, their departure still hurt ESPN.

    ESPN was a great place for the Sports fan, but it’s lost its edge, its relevance, its customers and ultimately it now loses jobs.

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