A network that grew from tiddlywinks and tractor pulls into the Worldwide Leaders in Sports has fallen on tough times, as evidenced by last month’s layoff of roughly 100 employees. On Tuesday, Disney CEO Robert Iger addressed the moves made and challenges faced by the company owned by the corporation he runs.
“A lot has been said about cost reductions at ESPN,” Iger said during a conference call to discuss Disney’s second quarter earnings, via Yahoo.com. “We’re managing that business efficiently. We always have, we always will. Obviously, there’s been a greater need to do it given challenges in the near term, but frankly what we’ve been doing, in terms of scale and size, is not that significant given that ESPN has 8,000 employees and we reduced by 100 employees. I don’t take it lightly but, the number gets these headlines . . . it wasn’t a particularly significant reduction.”
It’s 1.25 percent of the full workforce, which is more than a blip. It seemed like a bigger deal because it included plenty of recognizable names and faces.
For years, the narrative in the industry was that ESPN would always generate strong ratings because it had become the default sports network among fans. That has changed not simply because sports fans are changing the channel but because people who aren’t sports fans: (1) have stopped paying for ESPN and various other channels they never watch; and (2) have no reason to purchase ESPN content elsewhere.
Plenty of opinions and hot takes have emerged regarding whether an actual or perceived left-of-center political lean has greased the skids for ESPN. While it’s impossible to rule it out as a contributing factor, it’s important to keep in mind the political leanings of those who are making that argument the loudest, since using ESPN as the head on a spike could bully others into avoiding any and all political commentary or nudge them toward moving the sports conversation right of center.