ESPN choosing brand over star power will lead to inevitable decline

Photo via Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images

ESPN, the beloved and family oriented sports network that took a major risk to run the first all-day sports channel, will never be the same.

As everyone knows, they have cut over 100 on-air personalities. This isn’t a major shock for people in the sports business, for it was a long time coming. ESPN appears to have been on the decline for a while and this is just the confirmation.

Most of these cuts are people who America consistently sees on television. The notable layoffs include Ed Werder, Andy Katz, Trent Dilfer, Jay Crawford, Paul Kuharsky, and more.

It was not too long ago that we saw ESPN fail to renew the contracts of Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, Mike Tirico, Keith Olberman, and Bill Simmons, all notable ESPN personalities that they would not pony up the money to keep.

However, it didn’t take the former employees much time to find a job that paid them more money at a different company.

Bayless and Cowherd left to Fox Sports for a higher salary and the ability to speak their mind freely.

Cowherd often criticizes his former employer on Fox Sports and he knew the end was coming while he was still an employee of ESPN.

“I told my producers, ‘Fellas, it’ll never be the same here,’” he told CBS’ “Bull & Fox” show. “You cannot pay four times for the house [more] than what you paid for the house last year. And I said this company will never be the same. It was at that point I started looking, and this is not going to end today. They have really cost-prohibitive contracts, combined with cord-cutting.”

ESPN has made many mistakes that are costing them now.

They bet on their brand instead of the stars in the business. In addition, they signed enormous TV deals that they could never afford, according to Deadspin’s Kevin Draper.

“They paid $2.25 billion to broadcast SEC games. They paid $480 million to broadcast Wimbledon. They paid $15 billion to broadcast Monday Night Football. They paid $1.5 billion to broadcast the Pac-12. They paid $5.6 billion to broadcast MLB. They paid $3.6 billion to broadcast the ACC. They paid $770 million to broadcast the U.S. Open. They paid $5.6 billion to broadcast the College Football Playoffs. They paid $12.6 billion to broadcast the NBA.”

They believed that no matter who they put behind the camera, business will boom.

As a matter of fact, Ed Werder told The Doomsday Podcast, “these cuts were going to be made and the quality of work was not going to be a consideration.”

Consequently, their viewership numbers have been plummeting; they have lost 10.8 million subscribers since Fox launched their new channel FS1, per Sports Business Daily. 

A major reason for the decline is the high price ESPN charges the cable companies to show their network (four times greater than the next highest fee). Now, those cable companies are making skinny bundles that are much cheaper and don’t include ESPN.

It is to be seen whether or not the loss of subscribers includes a huge number of sports fans. If it does, ESPN could be in further trouble.

Many anchors and other employees took major pay cuts with hopes of staying with the company and continuing their dreams. According to Sports Business Daily, ESPN approached one employee asking them to cut their salary by a preposterous 60%.

Instead, an ESPN employee could leave for the rival companies that pay a higher salary, provide an opportunity to live in Los Angeles rather than Bristol, Connecticut, and will let their on-air personalities speak with fewer restrictions.

Today, the only bargaining chip ESPN has is providing the opportunity for a young up and comer to fulfill their dream of being on ESPN.