Column: ESPN making a big mistake

Published 11:06 am Friday, July 7, 2023

For decades, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, better known as ESPN was the place for fans to go to get the latest news and highlights.

Its innovative programming drew fans from around the globe to the cable channel, which set the standard for how to cover sports and report them.

But over the years, especially the last five or so, ESPN has become a victim of its own success. With the rise in popularity came a rise in salaries for the on-air talent, which became household names worldwide.

Things took a sharp turn when the Disney Company purchased ESPN. The talent we all turned to watch and get our sports from began slowly disappearing as layoffs began. The network seemed to follow the lead of other cable news outlets, which was to tell us what we should think about the highlights and news we were getting instead of just reporting it and letting us decide for ourselves how we felt about it.

We sometimes received our sports updates and highlights with a bit of humor, and I was okay with that. But when ESPN began to really change, I did not need to know what the anchors thought about some movie that opened over the weekend or to try and stuff their opinion about a situation down my throat. I would watch one of their numerous debate shows if I wanted that.

We lost some of my favorite personalities to death, like Stewart Scott, and some who felt they were being limited in what they were being allowed to do on the network, like Keith Olbermann. Others left for more lucrative deals on other networks, like Dan Patrick.

But over the past few years, and especially in last few days, we had had to watch some of our favorite and the company release some of the network’s most talented on-air personalities.

Disney warned us that layoffs were coming, but none of us believed it would include some of the names we have learned about over the last few days. Names like Suzy Kolber, Neil Everett, Keyshawn Johnson, Jeff Van Gundy, Jalen Rose, Max Kellerman, Steve Young, Todd McShay, Matt Haselbeck and David Pollack to name a few.

I am sure most of them will land on their feet on other networks, but that does not make this news any less shocking.

One of the reasons I read in the numerous stories I have seen over the last few days was that the network was laying off the on-air talent to help protect the jobs of off-air personnel. I understand that the on-air faces have bigger salaries. Still, I am pretty sure none of them are going to be able to step in front of a camera and do the jobs of the people I named, plus others I did not, because they do not have the talent to do so, nor do they have the knowledge to do it effectively.

It is going to be interesting to see who they plan on replacing these professionals within the coming months. There is a good chance that they will see a significant drop in viewership because people like myself are mad at them and will give the new on-air personnel a very short tryout.

They better be really good right off the bat, or people will go to another network and watch their sports on their shows, probably being delivered by some of our former ESPN favorites.

It is a shame that everything has to be driven by money. But that is the world we live in. There will be more changes coming to our sports networks. I just hope some of them see the value in the talent and not just how much money they can scoop into their pockets.


Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at