How ESPN personalities created their own demise

Feb 3, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; A banner for ESPN the Party event in the Houston arts district. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 3, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; A banner for ESPN the Party event in the Houston arts district. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The list of close to 100 names were released by ESPN on Wednesday as ESPN trimmed their staff due to budget issues. From Ed Werder with his 17 years at ESPN to Danny Kannel with his three, ESPN slashed payroll and employees.

Business is a bitter pill to swallow at times. When companies thrive everyone stands shoulder to shoulder with those at the top but when it fails, everyone takes a hit. Yesterday was that bitter pill. The problem is that none of the on and off-air personalities who lost their job are absent of blame. They just couldn’t see that they were creating their own future.

Let us be clear from the start here, I don’t with them ill will and have a lot of respect for the majority of those men and women now seeking employment elsewhere. Unfortunately for them their employer ran a business model that was set up to fail. While these cuts will add a little air to the life raft that ESPN is floating on, it’s likely still going to sink slowly until that model is changed.

In its heyday ESPN was the “it’ network when it came to sports. Why? Because there was no competition. You watched ESPN or you didn’t. But along the way they lost their way. As their popularity grew so did the contracts to on-air personalities. No longer were they simply anchors but celebrities.

As the celebrity status increased, ESPN increased their exposure. They took on Thursday night football then took over Monday Night Football. To cover the billions of dollars they were spending on the broadcast rights, the booth announcers, sideline reporters, the pre-game and post-game crews, and everyone else in between, they increased their rates with the cable and satellite providers.

And still ESPN continued to thrive. So what caused what we saw yesterday and how were those who were fired responsible?


ESPN’s content was threefold. It was rotational meaning every hour the programming repeated for large time blocks. The content provided via live broadcast became more limited and talk style shows became less receptive to the audience but what really began their decline was the use of social media.

ESPN embraced the social media model that many blogs and newspapers use today however they didn’t know how to truly use the concept. In the early days of SM personalities would “Tweet” or whatever else they do to watch the upcoming segment of say Sportscenter for a news update. Everyone would run from their computer and turn on ESPN to catch that breaking news.

It wouldn’t last. It was no longer important to always be right but instead to be first and in the growing world of online sports journalism and powerhouse networks like FanSided, BleacherReport, and others, fans didn’t have to wait for the commercials and the other items being discussed to get that “breaking news” as promised.

So what happened? These same personalities broke the news via social media. Now no one was running off to watch the segment. Some even posted their own interviews and video segments on their timelines. And slowly people began to turn away. Sports fans realized that the information they wanted could simply be found by who they followed. And then came the Q&A.

On air personalities rarely if ever engaged in communications with sports fans or their viewers. Now it’s more uncommon for them to not respond to a “tweet” or a Facebook post message. Now, if a fan wants to know what Joe ESPN Reporter thinks of Johnny Draft he can simply ask.

No one needed ESPN anymore.

When you couple that with more and more people cutting the cord (ditching cable and satellite) and more and more finding other ways to watch the same programming.

While viewership was sliding ESPN continued the same model. At times attempting to add more original content that few seemed interested in. ESPN hosts their annual ESPY Awards but how many truly tune in to watch the event live?

ESPN was once the king of the sports hill but not anymore. The hill has been leveled and cell phone towers have replaced it. It’s been two years since I turned on ESPN to get my news outside of watching the draft and this year I will not be watching it via satellite as I have also finally cut the cord.

From bad business decisions to overpaying salaries to social media it was only a matter of time before the titan fell. The question is can they stem the incoming floods before they sink entirely? For those who lost their jobs, it’s a tough time but many will find new jobs and excel and others will move on to other things. For all of them, we of course hope that they will thrive.

ESPN needs to learn from this and fix the issues that plague it or they will continue with more cuts down the road.