ESPN Bloodbath: 11 Reasons Why the Network Axed 100 People

Problems include a $178-million-dollar studio and a shrinking audience

Last Updated: April 26, 2017 @ 8:47 PM

ESPN laid off 100 on-air personalities and writers on Wednesday, and we think we know why.

While it was a bad day at headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, the company had good reason for the bloodbath. Or technically 11 reasons on TheWrap‘s count.

Click here for the running list of those confirmed to have been let go, and read on for what went so wrong for the so-called “Worldwide Leader in Sports.”

1. It Just Costs Too Damn Much
ESPN is by far the most expensive channel in your cable package. Per research company SNL Kagan, ESPN accounts for $7.21 per month of every basic cable user’s bill, whether you watch “Pardon the Interruption” or not. For an easy comparison, Fox News Channel carries a $1.41 monthly fee and CNN is 71 cents — and those are considered high.

Oh, and that $87 per year ESPN charge is more than double what it was in 2007. That rough reality leads to cord-cutting, as does the fact that …

2. … Millennials Don’t Care About Network Highlights
They just don’t. Or at least, not as much as the generation that grew up alongside ESPN, which provided the never-before-available luxury of sports rights and hard-to-find highlights.

Millennials have the YouTube, and they like that. Deal with it — ESPN certainly is now.

3. ESPN Has a Boss, and Disney Has Shareholders
Disney purchased ESPN in 1996, and for a while, it was the Mouse House’s crown jewel. As a matter of fact, in the not-too-distant past, ESPN had generated more revenue for Disney than any of its other properties. That’s not the case anymore.

The parent company’s overall stock price is still in recovery mode from a Summer 2015 decline, when ESPN’s subscriber-hemorrhaging first become public. That said, TheWrap was told this morning these layoffs were not a Disney edict, however, and that the subsidiary pulled its own card in reaction to reality.

4. “The Worldwide Leader” Wasn’t Exactly Running Lean — and It Still Isn’t
On Tuesday, ESPN had about 1,000 of what it calls “commentators,” which includes on-air personalities, writers and reporters. After many tough phone calls and face-to-face meetings today, the company now says it has about 900, TheWrap has learned.

Yes, that’s still a ton. One admittedly very rough approximation had closest competitor Fox Sports with about half that sum, and the guesstimate counts all of the emerging competitor’s Regional Sports Networks.

5. There’s Competition Now
Speaking of Fox Sports, ESPN is no longer the only game in town (pun kind of intended). That growing group has not only poached a number of high-profile on-air talent from ESPN, Fox Sports 1 even has the channel’s old boss, Jamie Horowitz, running the show.

TheWrap is told that Fox Sports is keeping a close but sympathetic eye on the list of ESPN cuts today. Of course, the still much-smaller Fox Sports shouldn’t look to grow so quickly. It’s not immune to what plagues the industry leader.

6. The Rights Are Wrong
What does ESPN even have anymore in terms of key and prestigious live sporting event rights, which is what built the network? Not much, all things considered, save “Monday Night Football,” which is only one (yes, sometimes two) game per week for just 17 weeks of the year.

Think we’re exaggerating? ESPN and sister broadcasting channel ABC aren’t in the current Super Bowl rotation, NBC has the Olympics, Fox has the World Series, Turner and CBS split March Madness, and ABC has the NBA Finals. Hell, ESPN doesn’t even have its own awards show anymore — the ESPYs also run on ABC these days.

7. Perhaps That Fancy New Studio Wasn’t Necessary
In 2014, ESPN cut the ribbon on its new $178 million state-of-the-art digital center. Those five studios and 194,000 additional square feet are two things the company will likely be leaving out of any and all damage-control media statements this week.

We’re not saying these 100 jobs could have been saved by existing within the confines of the old digs, but yes, they could have.

8. “Monday Night Football” Ratings Are Down
The NFL took a TV ratings hit last season, and “Monday Night Football” was not immune. Those softer Nielsen returns = fewer ad-sales dollars. That’s simple math, and the numbers aren’t adding up for ESPN.

We doubt the National Football League passes along any shortcomings from the field of play to its partners, by the way. Maybe next year, like fans from all 31 teams not named the New England Patriots are telling themselves today.

9. Who Ya Got Left?
Popular personalities Bill Simmons, Keith Olbermann and Jason Whitlock were all fired from ESPN in 2015, the same year that the company cut 300 staffers. In 2016, Colin Cowherd was given his walking papers. Those big names proved to be big losses.

Before, during, and (clearly) after, a number of others have left ESPN, whether on their own volition or with a security escort and a file folder box. And today’s cuts feel more like a (giant, admittedly) band-aid than some sort of final surgical repair.

10. They Still Haven’t Really Figured Out the “SportsCenter” Problem
ESPN’s flagship show has been suffering an identity crisis for a number of years, and the company hasn’t exactly been super swift in response. What was once the hallmark of the network has gone through a number of retooling iterations and is still being altered today.

For a long time, each airing of “SportsCenter” wasn’t live or even original, and thus not up-to-the-minute. Tape-delay simply doesn’t work for a news program in the Internet era, even one that hawks Instant Replay. ESPN is still trying to repackage its main highlights show, and is now rebranding individual airings based on the personalities permanently hosting. The uniformity and information-slinging aspect is all but gone, and there’s not much evidence that’s a good thing.

11. It’s Hard to Monetize the Internet — Even for ESPN
Like most news websites, ESPN.com does not exist behind a paywall, which is a great thing for consumers. It’s not so awesome for the company’s accountants. The popular online destination does have a paywall option, ESPN Insider, though its value in 2017 is a hard sell.

As is print. ESPN the Magazine still lives on, though anyone who follows these things knows that adding old media on top of new is no slam dunk.