With today’s reports coming out that ESPN is going to be laying off what some have estimated is 400 employees, it’s time to have a discussion about big business, sports media, and if anyone should even care about this. The story as first reported on Deadspin is that the ESPN, an arm of the massive Disney corporation, is planning massive layoffs with some estimates around 10% of the total staff at the main headquarters in Bristol, CN.
This is something that I could have never imagined coming, but as someone who produces sports content for people to consume, I understand why it happens. There was a time when it came to sports content ESPN was it. This all-encompassing, omnipotent sports media deity. It simply crushed everything under its feet as it gobbled up more and more rich sports content, converting all of that into ratings and advertising money. That in turn made the monster more hungry and they ate and they grew and it looked at one time like ESPN was going to simply smother the rest of the sports media universe.
But they didn’t. Even with billion dollar transactions and masses of content, other sources of sports media grew. Thrived even. And the blueprint began to change. The inclusion of social media further changed the landscape. You can see it in how ESPN is distributing their information. Speaking only for myself, I pay more attention to the Twitter accounts of the ESPN insiders than I watch ESPN. And these shows they have; does anyone really want to sit and watch them? I’ve tried, but as someone who is passionate about football like I am, turning it into a variety show insults my sensibilities.
So, I am sure some of this is a re-structural move to try and carve out a niche into new markets and expand their viewership. And why do they do this? For money, of course, even though Disney makes billions (with a “B”) in profit every year. But don’t kid yourself. Cutting a few hundred tech staff isn’t going to move the meter in terms of profits. Nah, I think this is part of a bigger move. And I think it’s a move backwards to go forward. There was a time when every other media outlet wanted to be like ESPN, but don’t be shocked if ESPN uses this to set in motion a change to make themselves more like those media outlets that have been nipping at their heels. Everyone is talking about cost cutting, but in a company as massive as Disney, a few layoffs like this is just the first step in something else entirely.