Nearly 100 of ESPN’s most talented personalities, reporters, and journalists were laid off yesterday, sending shock waves across the sports world. Among those laid off include Jayson Stark, Ed Werder, Trent Dilfer, Andy Katz, Jane McManus, Ethan Strauss, Jay Crawford, and Calvin Hankins.
For 17 yrs I've had a dream job covering baseball for ESPN. Today is my last day. Thanks to all the great people at ESPN, MLB & all of you!
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) April 26, 2017
After 17 years reporting on #NFL, I've been informed that I'm being laid off by ESPN effective immediately. I have no plans to retire
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) April 26, 2017
Many athletes, coaches, and dedicated ESPN viewers have been upset and perplexed at the layoffs. Golden State Warriors interim head coach Mike Brown addressed the issue during his presser with the media yesterday. The layoff of Strauss in particular makes little sense considering he primarily covered the Warriors, who are in the middle of one of the greatest stretches of team success in the history of sports.
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 26, 2017
Consumer Demand Driving Industry Changes
Some of the most talented members of the sports media lost their jobs today, which on the surface makes little sense. Part of the reason for the layoffs is due to ESPN’s cutting cost strategy, yet there is a larger story to be told. The landscape of the sports media industry is changing significantly, and consumer demand is the driving force behind it.
The way in which viewers consume media and news is drastically different than in years past. Think about a common way for the average American consumer to catch up on sports news. They scroll through their Twitter feed, simply reading a 140-character summary as opposed to reading entire articles. Memes, GIF’s, and visual displays of information have gained popularity through social media outlets. People no longer have as strong of a desire to read long, thorough, well-researched articles. Instead, they prefer to read a quick summary of the same information through a creative graphic or minute-long video. Short bursts of information is the new preferred style of sports news for consumers.
Consumers also have begun to prefer online streaming or highlight clips on smart phones as opposed to traditional television programs. Cable networks have been losing viewers to online media for years, causing companies like ESPN to adjust their business strategies. The rise of sports television during the 1970’s and 1980’s may have finally reached its peak.
As these layoffs suggest, ESPN is adjusting its labor pool accordingly to fit the modern model of sports media, narrowing down for talent that can produce the content most appealing to viewers.
Better Technology Gives Consumers More Access
Ever since the technology advancements of computers and especially smart phones, American society has shifted to one in which people want information as quickly as possible. Remember ten years ago when you would turn on the radio and patiently wait for the commentator to give an update of the score? In 2017, this is practically unheard of; people simply pull out their smart phone and check an application, whether it be Twitter, ESPN, or even Siri.
The days of waiting until the following morning to check scores and statistics in the newspaper are long gone. From newspapers, to radio, to television, and now smart phones, the process of obtaining sports news has become quicker and more efficient over time, so this is simply a continuation of the trend. As technology increases, consumers have greater access to instant information.
Americans Prefer Boisterous Personalities Over Disciplined Analysis
It’s interesting that one ESPN media member in particular wasn’t laid off – Stephen A. Smith. Smith, who has a $3.5 million salary, has gained the reputation as a sometimes biased analyst who often takes questionable stances. His passion and exuberant personality shine through, which is appealing to American consumers, and this is why ESPN would never dream of laying him off. There may be other reporters who are more talented, yet Smith is more attractive to viewers.
Stephen A. Smith is loud. Stephen A. Smith is a household name. Stephen A. Smith enjoys befriending many high profile athletes and celebrities, influencing his analysis. Stephen A. Smith is an unpredictable character. Stephen A. Smith’s exaggerated reactions are often comical. What other popular American figure exhibits these same exact traits? Donald Trump.
Throughout the campaign season, Trump often neglected facts and research in favor of providing Americans with what they want to hear. This can be compared to the desire of consumers to view creative media graphics or listen to unpredictable, entertaining media personalities instead of reading well-researched, in-depth articles.
Trump essentially won the election by providing Americans with bold, entertaining, and passionate claims. Hillary Clinton undoubtedly had stronger qualifications, more in depth plans, and a greater knowledge of American politics, yet Trump captivated the interest of the people. Similarly, many of the writers who were laid off yesterday have superior knowledge of sports, better reporting skills, and more experience than many of the employees who still work for ESPN. There has been a shift in the type of sports media that appeals to consumers, and media personalities clearly have to adjust.
Future of Consumerism and Sports Media
What does this say about the future of American consumerism? Is it bad that we prioritize more entertainment over better information? At one point will this evolution change course, or will it continue down this path forever?
There are many questions left to be answered about ESPN. How will this impact ESPN’s ratings? How different will ESPN appear to the average consumer? Will ESPN’s business strategy backfire?
It will be interesting to see which companies hire the very talented labor pool that is newly available. Maybe the league networks will add significant talent, which would further complicate the sports media industry.
Placing yesterday’s events into the larger context of consumerism and sports media is imperative. Only time will tell if consumer demands continue down this path and if the sports media industry is in for more major changes.