The juggernaut has fallen.
One of the most prominent sports television networks is facing a dilemma that has impacted many other media outlets, in that viewers are changing the way they consume media.
As more major professional sports leagues extend their coverage into individual streaming apps such as NBA League Pass, NFL Network and MLB.TV, it has left once thought invincible sports giant ESPN in a bind as they continue to lose subscribers and ad revenue at an unprecedented rate.
In January of 2017 ESPN had one of its lowest subscriber totals in recent history at 88 million, down from over 100 million subscriber five years previous.
As the number of viewers have gone down the price to have the service has gone up to a current high this year of $8.25 a month, up from their previous $7 a month price in 2014.
These setbacks have led to the program reportedly having nearly one hundred notable anchors, reporters, analysts and production staff many of which are fan favorites.
In March 2017 the network announced that employees should expect layoffs in the near future, and these expected layoffs began in April of this year and include several recognizable names.
Initially in April ESPN refused to release the names of their on-air employees being laid off, as they wanted to give them the opportunity to give the news to friends, family and peers on their own time and in their own manner, and said the company will release the full list upon completion.
NBA reporter Chad Ford, who had covered the NBA draft for ESPN over the past sixteen years, was one of the most shocking layoffs from the network.
Ford was known for his consistent coverage of breaking news and NBA coverage. By the year 2005, Ford had more than 1 million paid subscribers to his Insider that read his reports for ESPN. Ford now continues his work as an assistant professor at Brigham Young University.
Layoffs end my 16 yr run covering the NBA Draft for ESPN on June 30. Will do my best to make next 60 days special for our Insider readers
— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) April 29, 2017
Longtime college basketball writer and reporter Andy Katz, who had 17 years with the program was also informed of his release. Katz began working for ESPN in 2000 and was known for his break down of college basketball brackets. Katz most iconic moments came when he held breakdown segments with former president Barack Obama each year of his presidency during March Madness. Katz left fans and future media reporters with a positive message of hope and praise in how to conduct themselves in the sports world.
An update on my situation: pic.twitter.com/ktnoLHDTZH
— Andy Katz (@TheAndyKatz) April 27, 2017
Perhaps the biggest name to be released from the show is NFL Insider John Clayton. Clayton had been with ESPN since August of 1995 as a senior NFL writer. Clayton grew into a fan favorite personality on the air as he drew in many fans from his distinguished time being on a plethora of ESPN platforms to spread his knowledge and insight of professional football. Many fans will recognize Clayton from one of ESPN’s most iconic commercials during the program’s run of commercials involving their staff in attempts to promote and boost ratings for the program’s networks. Clayton still writes for the National Football League.
I can honestly say that my relationship with ESPN was the second best in my life. My marriage to my wife Pat is obviously No. 1.
— John Clayton (@ClaytonESPN) May 31, 2017
These layoffs that current ESPN president John Skipper is managing are also due to extreme costs that the company endures, such as an annual content cost of $7.3 billion, which is $1.3 billion more than the completely streaming program Netflix.
ESPN also has found itself in a hole due to previous payment agreements with major sports leagues because the show used to rely and successfully depend on subscriber fees to drive their revenue. They currently pay the NBA an average of $1.4 billion a year, the NFL $1.9 billion and the MLB $700 million.
This is not the first time that the network has had to make major cuts. In 2015 ESPN laid off three hundred employees of its production staff.
ESPN continues to lead in prime time ratings on occasion, but the once-thought-untouchable giant must continue to adapt to the changing times of media consumption to keep up with competitors and remain the staple of sports coverage. Time will tell who the next faces to leave the prominent program will be.