ESPN Layoffs: Who Got Fired And Why?

ESPN layoffs, originally estimated in the 30-70 range, wound up affecting about 100 employees, must of whom were public facing, in media lingo, rather than behind the scenes, as the network continues to drown in red ink.

Some media analysts anticipate that there is even more headcount reduction in ESPN's future.

In the summer of 2013, ESPN jettisoned hundreds of behind-the-scenes production workers, as it did again in October 2015. This time, those considered "talent" found themselves in the hot seat in what executives called right-sizing.

As the Inquisitr previously detailed, the Bristol, Connecticut-based sports network has become a drag on the earnings of parent company Disney as cord-cutters unsubscribe in droves. Through the end of 2016, ESPN had lost about 12 million subscribers from a 100 million high in 2011. Cable and satellite providers charge each customer $7 a month for the self-named Worldwide Leader in Sports, so the lost income to ESPN is massive. Taking in just 25 percent of its revenue from advertising unlike conventional networks, ESPN is reportedly bleeding 10,000 subscribers every day.

Against the backdrop of a declining viewer base (ratings are reportedly down 16 percent this year), ESPN is on the hook for $7 billion in broadcast programming rights fees to the NFL, NBA, MLB, and various college conferences through the end of this year alone. It coughs up $1.9 billion a year to the NFL for ESPN Monday Night Football and some ancillary content.

Many of those let go in the ESPN layoffs tweeted out their separation news after getting the dreaded phone call or summons to HR. Anyone who has ever been laid off knows how unpleasant the experience can be. The tweets were almost all similarly conciliatory and gracious (the thinking presumably was that there was no point in burning any bridges, past or future, given the ups and downs of the media industry--or perhaps a positive tweet was a condition of the severance package).

Some of the more familiar names to regular ESPN watchers or readers who were let go yesterday include Len Elmore, Ed Werder, Trent Dilfer (the former Baltimore Ravens QB), Britt McHenry, Danny Kannell, Andy Katz, and Mark May. Studio hosts who are departing include Jaymee Sire, Jade McCarthy, Robin Lundberg, Jay Crawford, and Reese Waters. ESPN also laid off three National Hockey League reporters even in the midst of the NHL playoffs. Legal analyst Roger Cossack is also gone.

Prominent MLB analysts Jim Bowden, Dallas Braden, Doug Glanville, Raul Ibanez, and Jayson Stark also received pink slips. To fill gaps in its baseball coverage, ESPN will begin simulcasting the daily Intentional Talk program that airs on the MLB Network. "While ESPN pays MLB $700 million annually to broadcast games, it's apparent baseball coverage is no longer a priority in Bristol. That's likely a reflection on MLB's lessened national standing. Sunday Night Baseball, once a marquee property, continues to see its ratings flounder in comparison to the network's other major telecasts," WEEI explained.

Most of the high-visibility personalities are still on the ESPN payroll as of now, although stars Hannah Storm, Ryen Russillo, and Karl Ravitch, for example, may have a lower profile on the network going forward, The Hollywood Reporter claims.

"ESPN executives will continue to evaluate talent contracts in the near term; and there very well could be more talent exits, some of them high-profile."
According to former ESPN host Colin Cowherd, who previously jumped to Fox Sports 1, the handwriting was on the wall when ESPN in 2014 signed a nine-year $24 billion contract with the NBA, the New York Post reported.
"I told my producers, 'Fellas, it'll never be the same here.' You cannot pay four times for the house [more] than what you paid for the house last year. And I said this company will never be the same. It was at that point I started looking, and this is not going to end today. They have really cost-prohibitive contracts, combined with cord-cutting."
Cowherd's co-host on FS1's Speak for Yourself, Jason Whitlock, as well as Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis, among others, have long also argued that ESPN has gone too far in trying to force a liberal political agenda into sports content, which has contributed to the viewership decline. In an essay on the ESPN website published in December 2016, public editor (ombudsman) Jim Brady conceded that the network has moved in a leftward direction, alienating some viewers.
Earlier this month, Brady wrote that this trend will continue with management's blessing, despite the job losses that occurred this week. "ESPN has made it clear: It's not sticking to sports."

On his Outkick the Coverage blog yesterday, Clay Travis reaffirmed what he's been insisting all along in the context of the latest round of ESPN layoffs.

"ESPN's business is collapsing and the network is desperately trying to find a way to stay above water. You know how a drowning person flails in the water before slipping under? ESPN's left wing shift is that flailing. They think going left wing will save them. The reality is the opposite, ESPN going left wing was like giving a drowning person a big rock to hold and thinking it would keep them from drowning. Instead, it just made them sink even faster. 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. "
In a radio interview on WABC today, longtime SportCenter anchor Linda Cohn acknowledged that the ESPN's emphasis on politics and social justice issues was turning off some viewers or perhaps former viewers. "I don't know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they're blind," she said, according to the New York Post.

During his Outkick the Show Periscope broadcast, Travis described the "toxic stew" that ESPN finds itself in because of (1) a collapsing business model flowing from subscriber loss, (2) paying too much for broadcast rights, thereby creating a sports bubble, and (3) alienating a big chunk of the audience by going liberal in an effort to compensate for 1 and 2. The trio of decisions has been disastrous for ESPN, he asserted.

ESPN's deals for NFL and MLB game rights run through 2021. "ESPN's decisions on whom to keep and whom to let go were obviously difficult. Its decisions moving forward will be much tougher," the Washington Post observed about the aftermath of the ESPN layoffs.

[Featured Image by Jessica Hill/AP Images]