- Sep 27, 2016
This feature-length article came out last thursday and is worth reading, they have a lot of stories and anecdotes, both on-the-record and off, that probably haven't surfaced before. Skipper berating both Jemele Hill and Linda Cohn, Bob Ley complaining about balanced viewpoints, and lots of data on ESPN's long-term financial trajectory.
Edit: some snippets:
Edit: some snippets:
John Skipper was furious.
One of his star anchors, Jemele Hill, had sent a tweet calling President Donald Trump a “white supremacist.” Mr. Trump’s supporters called for her to be fired. Prominent black athletes defended the anchor, who is African-American.
Sitting in his office last September, Mr. Skipper, then ESPN’s president, lit into Ms. Hill, according to people familiar with the meeting. If I punish you, he told her, I’d open us up to protests and come off as racist. If I do nothing, that will fuel a narrative among conservatives—and a faction within ESPN—that the network had become too liberal.
Mr. Skipper chose to spare Ms. Hill. Mr. Trump weighed in on Twitter : “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers.”
The president’s tweet was hyperbolic, but it tapped into real anxiety at ESPN. What was the way forward for a company shaken to its foundations by the cord-cutting revolution?
Linda Cohn, one of ESPN’s most prominent female anchors, in April 2017 gave a radio interview opining that ESPN’s politics were pushing away viewers and the network had overpaid for NBA rights. Mr. Skipper called to berate her on both counts, people familiar with the call said.
Why ESPN found itself torn up by the nation’s partisan politics traces back to its fundamental business challenge. Its status as cable TV’s most expensive channel had become a liability. As consumers grew fed up with their monthly cable prices, big cable distributors began offering discounted packages that didn’t include the network. Many consumers opted for those offers, while others cut the cord entirely, leading ESPN to shed 16 million subscribers over seven years.
At the same time, costs have ballooned, especially for vital live sports rights. Average annual payments tied to ESPN’s four biggest, long-term rights deals have more than doubled since 2013 to $4.7 billion. After years of growth, ESPN’s profit declined in the fiscal year that ended in September 2017, people familiar with its finances said. Declines have continued for the two ensuing quarters. ESPN has laid off some 600 employees over the past several years, including well-known hosts, though it has hired in areas such as technology and data.
Lots more if you check out Domer's link below, which should get around the paywall.Turmoil in the sports powerhouse’s business traces back to a spring day in 2014. Disney had invited about 100 analysts and investors to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., to hobnob with talent including tennis legend John McEnroe and show off ESPN’s new, $150-million-plus production facility.
In an unusual move, Disney gave long-term financial guidance for its cable networks division, largely powered by ESPN. It was rosy. ESPN’s research department presented data arguing cord-cutting was unlikely to become widespread, according to attendees.
“They were flat-earthers,” said one former ESPN executive.
At the same time, ESPN was spending aggressively. The company agreed to triple the fees it would pay the NBA, which it believes is growing in popularity. On the talent side, Mr. Skipper closely managed negotiations, desiring to beat back rivals like Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports. Agents, former ESPN executives and hosts said that led him to overpay for several on-air personalities.
By 2015, it became clear the research staff was off base, as ESPN’s subscriber losses accelerated beyond internal projections. That August, Mr. Iger lowered the company’s earlier financial guidance, causing a stock selloff that lopped more than $20 billion off Disney’s market value that week.
Some current and former employees said bloated contracts for talent weighed the company down and led to layoffs. ESPN is still paying many hosts, including former NFL reporter Ed Werder, who were on multiyear contracts when they were laid off more than a year ago.