Just Dewey: What is happening to ESPN?

Company lays off another 150 employees

By on December 5, 2017

ESPN has laid off 150 more people on Nov. 29, adding to the 100 that were already let go in April of this year. The layoffs have to do with the company losing 1.4 million subscribers in the past year, according to The New York Times.

It’s no secret that ESPN has been looking to cut costs. In 2015, the network laid off about 300 people, and the April layoffs included some high-profile on-air talent such as former NFL player Trent Dilfer, football insider John Clayton and baseball analyst Jayson Stark.

This may not be the end either. Fortune 500 reported that ESPN has to cut $250 million from its budget this year. As an aspiring sports journalist, this news is a little concerning.

ESPN is known as the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” and yet it is experiencing financial difficulties. Among the April layoffs, ESPN not only laid off on-air talent, but many beat writers as well.

I consider myself an avid ESPN supporter, as it is usually my first source for sports information. I follow many of the network’s Twitter accounts as well as some of their individual reporters. So when I heard the news of more cuts in November, it caught me by surprise.

However, when you look into the numbers, ESPN is losing subscribers and revenue at an alarming rate. ESPN had over 100 million households with a subscription to its programming in 2010, according to Business Inisider. That number has dropped to 87.22 million in 2017.

This could have something to do with ESPN’s high price for subscriptions as it has increased its price per subscriber from $4.69 in 2011 to $7.21 in 2017, according to Business Insider.

I know there have been complaints that ESPN simply has “bad programming” now and that the content doesn’t engage with younger generations very well.

To combat this, ESPN has remodeled its Snapchat show in an effort to engage millennials. The show is a three-to-five minute version of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and was launched on Nov. 13.

With ESPN looking to get in touch with the 18-34 demographic, I can’t help but wonder why it decided to cancel their show with Barstool Sports, “Barstool Van Talk,” after just one episode.

Barstool has dominated the 18-34 male demographic on television before, when the company’s four-night show with Comedy Central prior to Super Bowl 51 led to an average of 40,000 viewers in that category tuning in, according to Market Watch.

In addition to that, the company boasts a large social media following, over six million across multiple platforms, according to Market Watch. Barstool also just successfully completed its Snapchat show, “Barstool 5th Year.”

For ESPN to turn down the opportunity to expand its following with a Barstool partnership confuses me. In Barstool Van Talk’s debut, it doubled the 18-34 male audience compared to the prior year, according to Barstool CEO Erika Nardini. A show that was airing at 1 a.m., Barstool Van Talk had more viewers than every other ESPN program except for its show “First Take” that day.

To me, it seems like ESPN blew a great opportunity. Barstool has amassed a huge following and could have helped ESPN improve ratings and subscription numbers. A partnership with Barstool would have given them another platform to advertise and introduce new content.

Since ESPN has already laid off on-air talent, bringing in new hosts for shows from a company like Barstool may have helped sparked more interest. By looking at how well they did with Comedy Central, it is confusing to me that ESPN balked at the opportunity to lock them in. Instead, they may be stuck watching Barstool as TV competitors in the future.

As for the Snapchat show, if millennials already aren’t tuning in to SportsCenter on TV, what makes them more likely to take the time to subscribe to it on Snapchat, I think that if you are truly trying to get information on the day in sports, three to five minutes doesn’t always suffice. Plus, I don’t think it makes ESPN any more attractive to those who already weren’t subscribed to the show on Snapchat in the first place.

I have always dreamed of one day working for ESPN, but with the continued layoffs, I find myself wondering how many more employees the company will cut ties with by the time I graduate. With the company locked into about 8 billion dollars worth of contracts with the major sports leagues according to the Atlantic, getting out of contracts with employees is much easier than dropping an entire sport.

ESPN is still a billion dollar company with almost 8,000 employees. It still has contracts with every professional sports league, so it will remain the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.”

ESPN isn’t dying by any stretch, but it is suffering, and as an someone who wants the field of sports journalism to be my career, I can tell you it is not a comforting feeling.

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