The ESPN layoffs announced this past Wednesday sent massive reverberations all throughout the sports media business. In this trade, it’s the story of the year. It dominated national and international headlines for days because it reaches so many different niches. For instance you can watch sports and other events on DISH Latino and of course the ESPN programming available will be significantly altered going forward.
Last week, we listed eight truths this development taught us about the current state of the sports media business. Today we detail five steps that we believe the company should take in the wake of the ESPN layoffs.
If ESPN President John Skipper (a man who is a zillion times richer, more powerful and influential than I’ll ever become) happens to read this, here are five general ideas I’d like to toss his way.
1. Get Back to Basics
Although the names on the ESPN layoffs list don’t reflect this idea, hopefully they change course, or have some kind of master plan we don’t see yet. Bristol needs to focus more on providing hard news and genuine journalism, and much less on marketing and entertainment.
Jeff Pearlman writes on his blog:
This isn’t actually about Stephen A. Smith. It’s about the decline of good journalism and, sadly, the decline in the demand for good journalism. At some point in modern history, we (as a people) decided we prefer personalities and pizzazz over substance and detail. Our zest for a well-reported story has been overtaken by our zest for the mindless carnival barkings of hacks like Stephen A. and Skip Bayless.
It is ABSOLUTELY CRIMINAL that Screaming A. not only retains his job, but makes $3.5 million per to continue being a “performance artist.” Yes, as President Obama famously said, “how do we get the truth to get eyeballs?”
— Paul M. Banks (@PaulMBanks) May 1, 2017
I’d offer this- hyperbolic hoo-ha only moves the needle for short term attention spans. It’s not a good, consistent solid product and thus doesn’t merit long term attention. To be loyal to a brand they must provide you with a real substantive quality product. Providing legitimate breaking news keeps people coming back for more.
2. Shed Some PR staff, Cut down on the Self-Congratulatory Propaganda
Pro tip regarding the ESPN layoffs- here’s another way to shave costs: SCALE WAY DOWN the press releases and email blasts. Endless wasted man power goes into crafting and sending pointless, self-promoting garbage in their mass mailings. If you’re not on the mailing list, you can view the worthless dreck at ESPN Media Zone because all of them are also posted there.
ESPN sends out an egregious amount of releases, and it’s a ridiculous multiple of the lists served 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 (and they’re off-the-record of course), they will tell you exactly what I am saying now.
ESPN can greatly reduce production costs here, given all those man hours thrown away, but they won’t because the ESPN layoffs will not hit the PR department. That has now been verified.
Why are they keeping all the unnecessary PR people?
I guess because they’re deciding to put spin over substance, corporate-speak over concrete truth. Hopefully they (as well as all the other television networks for that matter) realize that NO ONE outside their own walls CARES about their personal records for ratings.
That’s like me publishing a post here about how Monday saw the third highest single day page views on The Sports Bank for a second Monday of a month in 2017 (yes, TV networks, especially NBC Sports, really do often add-on these many qualifiers). Or it’s like a personal record.
The market for news about TV ratings is VERY SMALL and decreasing rapidly. Most people only care about ratings when THEY’RE BAD, and very few care when those numbers are good, and you bang them over the head with self-congratulation.
No one cares about cherry-picked Nielsen numbers selectively spun into fitting a masturbatory agenda.
Here’s an example- ESPN had their most watched NFL Draft since 2014….OMG THREE WHOLE YEARS!!! SO IMPORTANT!
Or another example here at this link….again NO ONE CARES outside of ESPN. Thus you’re wasting time making celebratory trophies and awarding them to yourself every Tuesday, as ESPN actually does every week during football season.
3. Give credit where credit is due and reciprocate
When Vanity Fair beat ESPN to “call me Caitlyn,” they quickly announced Caitlyn Jenner as an ESPY award winner in order to take attention away. When Jason Collins came out to Sports Illustrated, they had one of their socially regressive bloviators making homophobic comments on air in order to take eyeballs away.
It’s sinister, but it’s what they do and hopefully they might have learned a lesson now.
This is an oldie but a goodie – ESPN saying it’s own name in a story early and often. “Sources told ESPN,” “according to an earlier ESPN” report…ESPN slaps it’s name into anything and everything with Trumpian gusto. More importantly, and MUCH more annoyingly they often don’t credit other sources and refuse to accept facts and news until they can credit themselves.
We’ve seen this endless times over the years, in the Bristol bubble; it’s not news when other people have it, only when they do.
So many of us, including myself have been the victim of it. We reported that Under Armour signed a deal with Notre Dame months before Darren Rovell did, yet Rovell trumpeted his report as being first, and exclusive.
Thankfully, a CBS Chicago radio host pointed this out on Twitter, but it was still too little, too late. Maybe these ESPN layoffs will be some strong medicine, helping them realize
1.) you have got to link out to the people who deserve it
2.) this is a two way street of give and take and
3.) it’s not all about you all the time; others excel too and you’re not the story simply because you want to be.
4. Accept the Humility of the Situation and Adjust to it
Even after the ESPN layoffs, they are still the mothership, the DeathStar, but they have had an implosion now. It wasn’t Luke Skywalker blowing it all up, but they’ve been taken down a peg now. That said, they’re still the empire and no one else is even close. FOX?! LOL! Still light years away from where ESPN is.
This hegemony has created extreme arrogance, and pride comes right before the fall. ESPN has been humbled and they need to harness that humility to refocus. This macro level lesson can be summated in the micro by the downfall of the Baseball Tonight franchise. Yahoo had a great piece on it.
Yahoo, Big League Stew writes:
It was before mobile apps and team-specific push alerts. Before live streaming. Before you could watch any game you wanted, not just the ones in your local market or on TBS or WGN. This was before social media gave bloggers and superfans just about as much credibility with fans as experts sitting in a TV studio.
This isn’t the 1990’s when all sports network seemed like they were the only game in town. Everybody has numerous other options now. Perhaps being top dog for so long, by such a long margin has left ESPN complacent?
5. Let People, not Profits be the Priority Sometimes
Corporations are amoral machines that exist for one purpose and one purpose only- make profits for shareholders. They serve no other higher purpose. As the ESPN layoffs reminded us, no matter how good you are at what you do, and how well you conform to the rules, you can still have your throat slashed, for no other reason than the augmentation of the corporation’s fiscal bottom line.
It’s sad that the arts (writing, drawing, painting etc.) have become an avocation, not a vocation. Most only take up these activities as a hobby, a select few make money from them, and only a tiny minority make a living off it.
WE CANNOT LET JOURNALISM FALL INTO THE SAME CLASSIFICATION
It matters way too much for a free and open society.
Dave Zirin writes in The Nation:
The people who have been laid off from ESPN have uniformly taken the high road on social media and said incredibly classy things about their former employer. They should be commended for this, but I think a little anger would not be out of place. It’s righteous to be angry about being treated this way, all for the high-minded purpose of placating the stock market. To say nothing is to accept it as the way it has it be.
Yes, Zirin is right, there should be some outrage to the ESPN layoffs, and to any instance of good people working hard, excelling at their jobs and playing by the rules. This is especially true in the field of journalism, as it’s also a basic public service.
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, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes to WGN CLTV and KOZN.Follow paulmbanks