ESPN staff is bracing for yet another mass layoff before year’s end – in the wake of already losing 400 employees in previous purges – layoffs that many critics tribute to the world’s largest sports network’s habit of pushing its leftist politics on its sports viewers.
“The next round of cutbacks could come down in late November or early December, with 40–60 positions potentially being impacted, according to sources,” the Sporting News reported. “The layoffs could hit both on-air TV/radio talent and behind-the-scenes production staffers.”
Retrenching for bad times ahead
Evidently, political persuasion will have little to do with who will be packing their bags before Christmas.
"This time it won't matter if you're 'liked' or not,” one source told the Sporting News. “It's not going to be pretty."
SportsCenter, the flagship of The Worldwide Leader in Sports, is expected to see employees both behind and in front of the camera to lose their jobs.
"I see [ESPN] going down a path where they have less staff – and hire more production companies to provide programs and fill air time," another Sporting News source disclosed.
It is reported that a number of factors are contributing to ESPN’s recent trend of throwing its staff overboard.
“But ESPN is struggling from the triple-whammy of a shrinking subscriber base, expensive billion-dollar TV rights for the NFL, NBA and other sports, and bloated talent costs,” the Sporting News’ Michael McCarthy. “The network pays $1.9 billion annually for Monday Night Football and another $1.4 billion for the NBA. Don't forget ESPN is still paying millions of dollars in severance costs to many of the 100 anchors/reporters laid off in late April.”
Even though ESPN has recently added talent to its SportsCenter cast, including Sage Steele, Jay Harris, Randy Scott and Jemele Hill, the casualties greatly outweigh any additions, as it has tried to dodge controversy after controversy over the months past.
“They let go several veterans of the network in April including Ed Werder, Trent Dilfer and Danny Kanell,” McCarthy noted. “ESPN came under fire in August after they pulled an announcer from a college football game named Robert Lee because his name is similar to that of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.”
Up Hill battle
Despite Hill’s inflammatory racial tweets directed at President Donald Trump and her rant against Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones for mandating that his players stand for the national anthem, ESPN gave her little more than a slap on the wrist – with her suspension amounting to a paid vacation.
“Jemele Hill returned to co-host the 6 p.m. ET SportsCenter Monday after a two-week suspension for repeatedly violating the network's social media guidelines,” McCarthy pointed out. “Hill's suspension was paid, according to ESPN book author Jim Miller.”
Critics contend Hill’s suspension was merely ESPN’s attempt to appear fair – and not too left-leaning.
“Her suspension came after Hill tweeted about a possible boycott of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' sponsors on Twitter,” the Sporting News reported. “She previously sparked a firestorm by calling President Donald Trump is a ‘white supremacist. Trump demanded Hill and ESPN apologize, while bashing the network's alleged left-wing politics, ‘bad programming’ and ‘tanking’ ratings.”
Hill has still not apologized for her attacks on the president and Cowboy’s owner, even though she admitted to TMZ that she deserved ESPN’s “suspension.”
And the controversies just keep on coming.
“Just this week, ESPN President John Skipper announced the cancellation of Barstool Van Talk after one episode amid outcry over the Barstool's brand's commentary on women,” Fox News reported.
A mini-mutiny over the matter was led by Samantha Ponder – who replaced ESPN’s iconic Chris Berman as the host of Sunday NFL Countdown – bring to light the controversial material on Barstool’s website.
“In a statement, Skipper said he ‘erred’ in believing ESPN could separate Barstool Van Talk from content on the Barstool site,” McCarthy informed. “But Barstool's David Portnoy countered ESPN knew exactly what its new partner was all about.”
Corking a sinking ship?
Moving on from the recent Lee, Hill and Barstool controversies, ESPN is preparing for its third purge in as many years.
“The ESPN workforce in Bristol, Conn., and around the country is still recovering from the layoff of 100 colleagues in late April,” McCarthy recalled. “Unlike the previous downsizing of 300 behind-the-scenes producers, directors and staffers in October 2015, this year's layoffs took out high-salaried TV talent and reporters – many with multi-year contracts. Many are still looking for their next gig.”
Just like the NFL, which saw its ratings plunge 10 percent amidst the national anthem protest controversy, ESPN has seen a substantial drop in its subscriber base – especially since it has used its sports programs, social media and covered events as stages for political grandstanding.
“ESPN has lost around 13 million subscribers since 2011, when a record 100.13 million households subscribed to cable packages that included the network,” The Washington Post informed, in a post by The Chicago Tribune. “That number fell to 87.22 million in August – when Nielsen released its most recent subscriber estimates.”
ESPN’s refusal to read the writing on the wall – that sports fans would rather watch a quarterback get sacked by a linebacker rather than listening to the president getting sacked by an announcer – is forcing it to rethink its big plans to continue broadcasting professional football and basketball in the years to come.
“When you combine those losses – the company gets more than $9 per month from each cable subscriber who has ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network in their lineups – with the $3.3 billion the network must pay each year for its NFL and NBA packages alone, it paints a troubling economic picture for ESPN and parent company Disney,” the Post’s Matt Bonesteel pointed out.