ESPN Layoffs and the Future of Sports Television 

It’s usually not big news when a cable network lays people off, but when a channel with the talent base and history of ESPN initiates triple digit job cuts after a couple years of other large layoffs, people notice. Here are my thoughts:

1) Live sports are not immune to trends affecting the television industry.  The idea of “appointment viewing” really only applies to a handful of events and to the viewing habits of hardcore fans. This means that decreased access to live sports isn’t usually a deterrent to cord cutting (people dropping expensive cable packages in favor of streaming services).

2) With the exception of NFL games, fans of other sports can largely access season-long packages through streaming services already. 

3) Fox Sports looks really dumb right now for consolidating some of their niche sports channels into FS1 and FS2.  This goes against industry trends of specialized local sports channels and league/sport specific channels.

4) Remember Sportcenter ten, twenty years ago, when they covered sports pretty evenly? Yeah, me too. Now a third tier NFL free agent signing leads Sportcenter during NBA and NHL playoffs.

5) Maybe we just don’t need Sportcenter as much anymore. I can watch highlights and read analysis on my phone. 

6) ESPN doesn’t even have that much live sports programming anymore. With the exception of 30 for 30, the rest of their lineup is doing nothing except filling dead air, usually with redundant NFL coverage.

7) A TV Industry insider once predicted to me that all sports will someday adopt a direct internet and/or pay per view model. Once leagues can make more money selling content directly to the consumer rather than relying on the networks, this will be the end of general sports channels as we know them. 

8) The last saving grace of the generalized sports channel may be convenience. A large part of why I personally still have a cable package is because it’s more reliable and convenient than cobbling together streaming services of varying technical quality. The day that changes, and that day is coming, I’ll probably drop the cable package.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe