This week, ESPN announced layoffs of over 100 individuals including several long-tenured, well-recognized on-air veterans. The fact that ESPN was hemorrhaging profits because of the loss of so many subscribers was well reported. Also, their overpayment for sports rights was widely understood as unsustainable. Although the writing was on the wall for ESPN for some time, they persisted and continued to make rights deals, most recently a multi-million dollar deal with the ACC to establish a stand-alone TV network.
ESPN has focused on flashy presentation, big personalities, breaking news (if sometimes inaccurate) and huge rights payouts. Less focus seemed to be placed on the sustainability of the flash and personalities. In a realm where unfavorable, though reliable coverage is deemed as “fake news” and opinioned pundits are mistaken for fact-checked reality, the current landscape of broadcast news in general and sports media specifically, is in flux. The wealth of sport media outlets is staggering, with commentary on all aspects of sports. From SB Nation to The Undefeated to the Players Tribune, the current landscape is rife with sports opinions. Opinions are great but when readers are looking for unbiased factual information, what sources can they rely on?
In one five minute segment of watching ESPN, an assortment of shows which involve hosts yelling their opinions across a table or through a screen at each other dominates the lineup. Remember when the only opinion based show on ESPN, other than NFL Countdown was the Sports Reporters? Now, the only time you get non-opinion programming is during the commercials.
Although ESPN is the first channel I click when my television is turned on, I’ve activated the mute button more often lately. In lieu of listening to Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman screaming about the Cavs free agent moves in the off-season or Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser fuss about the various methods of shortening baseball games, I might choose to mute the channel and watch the evocative facial expressions of the on-air commentators only unmuting when Bob Ley and Outside The Lines comes on with investigative reporting of sports related issues. Luckily Mr. Ley made it through the layoffs unscathed, at least so far…