“As Maine goes, so goes the nation” is a phrase that was once relevant and accurate in United States politics. Obviously, Ohio and Florida have replaced Maine’s role today, but for the sports media industry, ESPN is the bellwether.
Thus, the ESPN cuts announced this morning are the top trending story on Twitter, and we should all expect that topic to remain in the penthouse perch for the rest of the day. Here is a link to more details on the ESPN cuts and some of the better Twitter reactions to it.
There’s a lot to unpack today pertaining to the layoffs, so let’s dive right into our list of eight principles here which also apply to the sports media industry at large.
- Broadcast Rights Bubble Burst
It’s simple- there are way too many cable channels and too many 24/7 sports networks. The audience is diffused across multiple competitors, ratings then drop and everyone suffers. Not every sporting event needs to be televised- I’m looking at you spring college football “games” (okay, some good can come from the bubble bursting…like ending the attempt to mainstream spring college football practice into a spectator sport).
Numerous networks in the bidding for broadcast rights drove the prices up to ludicrous amounts, and since ESPN is the self-appointed “world wide leader,” they overpaid more than most. Then the cord cutting trend kicked in, hipsters everywhere told you they don’t own television sets and Bristol started bleeding financially.
Thus, supply expanded well beyond demand and the ESPN cuts were inevitable, with more likely in the future.
2. You Can’t Have Zero Firewall Between the Broadcast Rights Holders and the Actual Journalists
Here are a few little trade secrets of the sports journalism industry. “Scoops” are pretty much just handed over by the teams and leagues to their broadcast partners. There actually isn’t a lot of real “reporting” being done, and when there is, it’s only the scraps off the table because the actual meat was directly delivered to the rights holders, who then disseminate the info through an individual who’s granted the title “Insider.”
The “insider” is more of a glorified spokesperson than he is a true journalist, and you already know exactly who these people are. It’s how the sausage is made, and it’s a system employed by the teams/leagues/universities in order to curry further favor with the networks.
The teams/leagues/universities don’t really care about their local media who show up everyday; these people are insignificant compared to the national networks.
When you have an establishment set up that consists of little more than “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine….” what could go wrong? (see the very next item)
Like Mr. Burns told Homer Simpson during the labor negotiations episode: “after all, negotiations make strange bedfellows.”
3. You Can’t “Report” on the Entity that Signs Your Paycheck
Today, every single professional team’s official website as a full time “reporter.” As Jon Stewart said to Sean Hannity when the FOX News pundit labeled Donald Trump “a blue collar billionaire”:
“No, that’s not a thing.”
Same thing goes if you “report” for a league/team owned and controlled television network. This item needs no further explanation other than to point out how much the very idea insults the intelligence of the audience. Segue…
4. Time to Give the Consumer More Intellectual Credit, Not Less
Yes, we all know the tried and true sayings of Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, P.T. Barnum and more regarding the intellect and taste of the American public, but it’s clear that this approach has been exhausted now. The stereotype of sports fans as troglodytic meatheads has persisted for too long (Philadelphia, tomorrow through Saturday, you can step up to the plate and do your part to change this), but it’s wildly inaccurate.
Most sports fans are numbers geeks and stats lovers.
Sabermetricians in baseball are the polar opposite of the neanderthal meatball archetype. If the sports media industry finds just one teachable moment from the ESPN cuts, it’s this- “stop dumbing it down, please.”
You might be pleasantly surprised.
5. The Hot Taking/”Performance Artist” Bubble Might Burst Next
At some point, the Stephan A. Smith, Alex Jones, Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd style routine will have to end.
Why do you think Donald Trump was so able to tap into the anti-media sentiment in our country right now? And do so in such an extraordinary manner? Because much of America just doesn’t trust the mainstream media and why should they when so may prominent pundits go on TV everyday and say things that they themselves do not actually believe?
It has ripple effects.
Clay Travis is just doing a #MAGA bit….or is he? Maybe his deplorable world views are what he really believes? How about Ann Coulter, and the Ann Coulter junior-in-training Tomi Lahren? Are they true white supremacist neo Nazis, or do they just play that role on television?
Maybe that’s who they really are. See the slippery slope we’re on here? Who’s actually standing up for their true beliefs these days? As consumers we just need to turn the YELLING SCREAMING bloviators off.
Networks need to stop giving hot-takers a platform. Speaking of….
6. You have to Find a Way to Try and Diminish the Profit Motive in the News Business
In the old days, news was a loss leader.
It wasn’t expected to generate profits for the corporate mothership. You were doing a public service because you fulfilled a crucial role that was vital to the health of a functioning democracy. Sometimes in life, it just doesn’t have to be all about the Benjamins.
There are situations where cash should not indeed rule everything around us.
7. Sponsored Content/Native Advertising Has Run Amok and It’s Inflicting Endless Carnage
Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY was simply just a quid pro quo publicity transaction. It really doesn’t need to be politicized much beyond that. However, it does more than encapsulate the perfect example of how the media industry has exacerbated cross-platform promotion, and make it all about whatever moves the needle. ABC/ESPN/Disney is the most egregious offender but everyone does it the self-promotion/cross-promotion game.
“What does your company actually produce Ms. Nagle?” Lisa Simpson once asked.
“Synergy” she replied.
8. Everyone Wants News but No One is Willing to Pay For It
This is on us as consumers. Facts matter more than ever today and finding them is hard work. That work requires serious compensation and that revenue stream needs to flow from somewhere.
Pro tip regarding the ESPN cuts, if they want to shave more costs: you definitely need to SCALE WAY DOWN the press releases and email blasts. So much wasted man power goes into writing and sending pointless, self-promoting dreck in their mass mailings. ESPN sends out an egregious amount of releases, and it’s a ridiculous multiple of the list serves from NBC, CBS, FOX, Turner, NFL Network etc. combined.
Almost all of these emails go directly to the trash bin, and if you ask anyone on the distribution lists about this off-the-record, they will tell you exactly the same thing. ESPN can greatly reduce production costs here, but they won’t because the ESPN cuts will not hit the PR department. That reality has now been verified.
— Paul M. Banks (@PaulMBanks) April 26, 2017
ESPN, as well as every other TV network, needs to realize that no one outside their own walls cares about their ratings numbers and that’s never going to change. It’s not news just because it’s an item about television, and just because it’s on television doesn’t mean we need to be watching it.
Hubris not the main reason for the ESPN cuts today, but it’s one of them.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, partnered with FOX Sports Engage Network. and News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times and NBC Chicago.com, contributes to Chicago Tribune.com, Bold, WGN CLTV and KOZN.