ESPN Parts Ways With John Clayton In Ongoing Layoffs

NFL insider John Clayton is the latest ESPN personality to be laid off by the self-named Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a writer in 2007, John Clayton worked for ESPN for 23 years as an analyst and senior NFL writer. On his Twitter feed today, he confirmed his separation from the sports network to his 1.4 million followers.

Late last month, ESPN laid off about 100 public-facing employees, including on-air anchors, commentators, and website writers because of red ink, and the expectation was that more layoffs were on the horizon. Clayton’s name did not surface at that time.

Nicknamed the Professor, the respected Clayton, 63, still hosts a radio show on ESPN Seattle, but that station is now independently owned. He also hosts a podcast and appears on SiriusXM.

“Clayton is one of several prominent NFL reporters and commentators who have been discarded in recent months. Trent Dilfer, Ed Werder and Britt McHenry are also out,” WEEI recalled.

Last year, the network moved on from Cris Carter, Keyshawn Johnson, and Ray Lewis for its NFL coverage.

ESPN also let go a significant number of its MLB and NHL experts in the recent layoffs, perhaps most notably Jayson Stark.

John Clayton, who did most of his live shots from his Seattle-area home studio, appeared in perhaps the most famous satirical “This is SportsCenter” commercial ever.

In the 2012 ad, as soon as his segment finishes, the mild-mannered, non-flamboyant NFL analyst is seen ripping off his false dress shirt and faux suit jacket to reveal a heavy-metal T-shirt (and music accompaniment) and a ponytail/mullet.

The Disney-owned ESPN is on the hook for $7 billion-$8 billion in telecast rights fees to the NFL, NBA, MLB, and various college leagues this year alone amidst ongoing cord cutting and a reported ratings decline of 16 percent for whatever reason or combination of reasons.

Through the end of 2016, Connecticut-based ESPN had lost about 12 million subscribers from a 100 million high in 2011 and is currently bleeding about 10,000 subscribers each day. Cable and satellite providers charge each customer $7 a month for the ESPN channels, so the loss of income for ESPN is massive.

“ESPN seems to be pursuing a strategy, in conceptualizing the staff cuts, of eliminating nuts-and-bolts news reporters in favor of personality-driven anchors,” the New York Post noted about John Clayton’s departure.

The increasing political content on ESPN has also reportedly taken a toll on viewership, and by extension, revenue, according to many media industry observers. A study by market research firm Deep Root Analytics, for example, suggests that right-leaning viewers are bailing on ESPN as it delves more into social issues from a liberal/progressive perspective.

Deep Root Analytics maintains that across 43 markets, and even including the big U.S. liberal cities, the ESPN audience became 5 percent less Republican in 2016 over 2015, but the most dramatic change was felt on ESPN News, “whose audience became 36% less Republican and more Democratic.”

In a recent tweet, ESPN ombudsman (i.e., public editor) Jim Brady asserted that ESPN’s financial challenges are mainly the result of cable unbundling, but politics also factor into the scenario as a secondary cause.

The New York Post separately reported that in the month of May, ESPN lost 3.8 percent of its subscribers, the most for any cable channel.

“Earlier this month, Disney said operating income at its Media Networks division that includes ESPN dropped 3 percent in the quarter ended April 1.”

ESPN announced yesterday that College Game Day analyst Lee Corso re-upped in a multiyear contract, the Los Angeles Times detailed. Corso has been a panelist on the program since 1981.

If you’re a pro football fan, are you surprised that ESPN decided to include John Clayton in the layoffs?

[Featured Image by Ted S. Warren/AP Images]

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