If I didn’t know at least two of the journalists that ESPN laid off this week — the top cable sports network clipped about 100 people this week — I’d have said the downsizing was just.
Only it wasn’t. The network cut the wrong people.
Which means ESPN hasn’t learned its lesson. Which means they’re going to cut many more people sooner than you think.
This is not to beg ESPN to rehire the two dudes I know. I’m not going to name them. I’m not particularly close to them. They’re grown men. They can land on their feet.
No, this is to take ESPN to task for what led to the layoffs. What led to their falling ratings. It’s not about live-streaming sports on your smartphone. Despite what Breitbart News will have you believe, it’s not about an embrace of left-wing politics. It’s not a conspiracy theory at all. It’s not even style over substance.
It’s even worse. It’s style without substance.
When layoffs were imminent, ESPN said it would downsize on-air talent because its news division had been cut to the bone. The two guys I knew were actual reporters. They broke stories. One broke national stories.
ESPN did trim on-air talent. It also hacked a lot of reporters this week. ESPN chiseled into the bone.
What made ESPN the place to be for that coveted male demographic was not the catchphrases or the hyperventilating sports columnist debate shows. We went to ESPN because its reporters had the inside dope. ESPN was the place to tune in for the NFL Draft, the MLB trade deadline, free agency, coaching changes.
In other words: Catchphrases and jokes are cute, but people will go out of their way to be informed. If it’s excellent information, they’ll become return customers for your information. They’ll be like the people who camp out in front of an Apple Store for an upgraded iPhone.
Jokes and opinions about sports? Hell, anyone can have that. I can do that. The guy with three DUIs at the end of the bar can do that. What makes his opinion any different than Woody Paige or Stephen A. Smith? Those hypespewers don’t break stories. They never did.
Oh, but at least we can still watch Jamele Hill and Michael Smith bump butts and dance at the start of the new slick version of “SportsCenter” — “SC6.” Yeah, that’s what we need. More unsubstantiated opinions, but this time it’s to the beat of a dope-ass mix tape. (To be honest, I only saw the butt-bumping on a commercial for the rebooted “SportsCenter.” I haven’t watched “SC6.” When I want to watch girls dance on TV, I go to Univision or BET.)
“SC6” is part of a misguided strategy that an executive outlined recently. He said he envisioned “SportsCenter” to be more of an entertainment show like “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, whatever the hell that means.
ESPN fell into the same trap that MTV did in the 1990s. MTV was a ratings juggernaut until it strayed from its core, music. MTV embraced personality over art and it never recovered. ESPN embraced personality over its core mission and people turned away.
Its core is sports fact, not opinion. As a result, the content simply isn’t good enough.
Therefore, ESPN simply isn’t good enough, either.
Expect more downsizing.