After ESPN's recent layoffs, ESPN oral history author Jim Miller shares his biggest takeaways, as part of a 76-minute recent podcast.

By Richard Deitsch
May 04, 2017

As part of a 76-minute podcast on ESPN’s recent layoffs—about 100 on-air and online staffers involuntary lost their jobs last week—ESPN oral history author James Andrew Miller offered his biggest takeaways from one of the darkest days in sports media in recent years.

“There are two headlines for me: It turns out they way overreacted to FS1 getting into cable sports,” Miller said. “It caused them to make a lot of talent deals at prices they would have not have done. I think it also made them much more ready to spend big dollars, particularly with the NBA to make sure other people did not have it. I think they paid way too much and it’s not like we are just saying it now. As a result, things have not flowed particularly coherently from that point. One of the ways to gauge that is to look at some of these names. Some of these people have long-term deals. These are not buyouts. What they are saying to these people is: Look, we are going to sideline you. You will not have to work and we will keep paying you. But if you go get a job, we will release you but we will not pay you for the rest of the contract. So they are betting and hoping that these people will get other jobs.

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“As much as they are trying to push the words versatility and value, I think in some ways they have cut off their nose to spite their face,” Miller continued. “Because they are really taking important people who were able to give the audience and people on the web real detailed and deep background on certain sports. Andy Katz on college basketball, Jayson Stark on baseball, and the list goes on and on and on. So as a result, you start to think that was a level of expertise the network had that I think people were brought to and attracted to and now they are not going to have that."

Miller suggested there could be more layoffs this year.

“The 300 people who were let go two years ago, the 100 people that were laid off this month, this doesn’t solve their bigger problem,” Miller said. “This is just one domino that has to happen in a continuum in order for them to reinvent their business to be in a better position. It’s no mystery that Disney has called out ESPN for being a drag on its earnings in the media group. The question is how much time does ESPN have to get things on a better trajectory and also create a narrative where people understand it is a growth story and that that they have a positive future. How patient will Disney be? … I think that the next two years of ESPN are going to be probably two of the most critical years in its history because the next two years are going to in some way inform what the network will look like for the next 10 years.”

I’ll have more on ESPN layoffs in this Sunday night’s column.

 

Podcast breakdown

The subjectivity of the layoff decisions. – 5:10

The end of ESPN’s hockey coverage? – 6:20

• The inconsistency of the decision-making on talent. – 8:00

The factors that have led to ESPN’s issues. – 16:25

• ESPN bringing in Yahoo Sports reporter Adrian Wojnarowski and getting rid of current NBA staffers. – 22:00

Where does journalism stand now at ESPN? – 30:00

The gutting of Baseball Tonight.  34:00

Politics and ESPN and what is narrative versus reality. – 38:45

The most critical years in ESPN’s history.  – 47:00

• The future of ESPN’s deals with college conferences including the future of the ACC Network. – 51:00

A decision about the pedigree of the ESPN brand.  – 57:00

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

The Noise Report

1. The NBA said that for the 43 games across ABC, TNT, ESPN, ESPN2 and NBA TV (excluding any simulcast games on ESPNews or ESPNU), first round games averaged 3.15 million viewers, the highest viewership since 2014 and up 12% from last year. The network breakdowns: ABC averaged 5.5 million viewers, the network’s most-watched first round in six years. TNT averaged 3.4 million viewers, which was up 13% over last year. ESPN averaged 3.0 million viewers, up 14% over 2016.

1a. The Celtics-Wlzards overtime game on TNT Wednesday averaged 4.8 million viewers, TNT’s most viewed night to-date of the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

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2. The Wall Street Journal reported that Verizon will pay $21 million for the rights to stream the NFL’s Sept. 24 London game (Baltimore vs. Jacksonville) on AOL, go90 and Complex. Verizon will have exclusive global rights except in the Baltimore and Jacksonville markets, where the game will be available on local television.

3. Episode 117 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features ESPN NBA writer Royce Young, who is based in Oklahoma City and covers the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 In this podcast, Young discusses the birth and death of his daughter, Eva Grace Young; how he and and his wife, Keri, found out that their unborn daughter had a rare birth defect called anencephaly; how faith played a role for he and Keri during their journey; the internal dilemma of how much he wanted to share publicly about his daughter; his professional relationship with Russell Westbrook; the charges from some readers that he is a homer for Oklahoma teams; his coverage of Kevin Durant and what kind of subject Durant was; how the Thunder PR staff has changed in dealing with reporters; what the Thunder must do heading forward; the future of Westbrook in Oklahoma City; the pluses and minuses of working in a small market for ESPN, and much more.

 

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

4. The famed Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford announced his retirement from NPR commentaries after 37 years and 1,656 commentaries.

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4a. Here’s my favorite piece Deford wrote for SI.

5. Twitter will stream 20 WNBA regular season games per season over the next three years, beginning with the Dallas Wings at Phoenix Mercury game on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. The announcement was in conjunction with additional sports partnerships formed by Twitter to increase its live properties.

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