At least 100 ESPN on-air talent and a limited number of off-air employees were laid off April 26 as part of significant layoffs at the Disney-owned sports behemoth.
The layoffs occurred throughout the company and included 17-year veteran NFL reporter Ed Werder, 14-year veteran host Jay Crawford, and 9-year veteran NFL analyst Trent Dilfer among others.
Bob Ley, a company fixture since its third day in existence, addressed the layoffs on his program Outside the Lines today:
From Bob Ley pic.twitter.com/rjJVi7JZaZ
— Outside The Lines (@OTLonESPN) April 26, 2017
This is the start of an inevitable shift for the company’s content strategy in a world where premium sports leagues’ broadcasting rights are only getting more expensive and cable license fees — which ESPN depends on for most of its revenue — are dwindling as consumers cut the cord in droves.
ESPN faces an uphill battle to drive eyeballs away from new players like Amazon, who recently gained the rights to broadcast several NFL games.
The network has recently expanded its original programming lineup with documentaries and miniseries such as OJ Simpson: Made In America, which focuses on the football player’s widely publicized trial, and We the Fans: Section 250, a multiplatform effort on Chicago Bears fans.
Competitor Fox Sports has moved away from broadcasting as many premium live sporting events on its FS1 cable network in favor of more of a talk-heavy approach anchored with talking heads like Colin Cowherd, Skip Bayless and Katie Nolan that can easily be turned into podcasts or lightning rod videos for Facebook or YouTube.
Regardless of the approach, desperate times call for desperate measures.