As dominos continue to fall from ESPN’s massive round of layoffs last week, we’re starting to get a clearer and clearer picture of what kind of coverage The Worldwide Leader has in mind moving forward.

And after the news that Baseball Tonight is being essentially killed off, while Adrian Wojnarowski and his crew at The Vertical bring their NBA coverage to ESPN, there’s one obvious conclusion to draw: baseball is out, basketball is in.

We don’t mean to over-simplify here: ESPN laid off people who covered every major sport. They laid off NFL reporters and racing commentators and college football writers and on and on. Hockey took a big hit as well.

But the cuts to ESPN’s baseball operation are probably the most substantial. While ESPN was never particularly invested in hockey or auto racing, it has always covered baseball like a top priority. But with a cascade of layoffs, it appears America’s pastime has been demoted to the back burner.

On the print side, ESPN diminished an already small beat writer corps by firing Cardinals reporter Mark Saxon and Dodgers reporter Doug Padilla, bringing them down to five or so team-specific writers. They also let go of one of their top national writers, Jayson Stark, as well as analyst Jim Bowden. Clearly, baseball will not have as large a presence on ESPN.com from now on.

And on the broadcast side, the moves were even more dramatic. Analysts Raul Ibañez, Dallas Braden and Doug Glanville are gone, and their show, Baseball Tonight, is being reduced to Sundays only. During the week, ESPN will air MLB Network’s Intentional Talk on ESPN2 as its primary baseball talk show. ESPN currently pays MLB $700 million a year to televise baseball games, but given these cuts, who knows if the network will rush to re-up when that deal expires in a few years.

It’s easy to infer that ESPN decision to scale back MLB coverage reflects baseball’s gradually diminishing status in the American sports landscape. As baseball loses its cultural capital, ESPN sees less reason to cover it.

Basketball, on the other hand, is as popular as ever. Its audience is young, its stars are marketable and it has an outsized presence in pop culture. And as a result, the NBA seems to be where ESPN is cutting back the least.

We won’t know exactly what ESPN’s NBA coverage will look like until the dust settles on Wojnarowski’s move and we see who he takes with him from Yahoo. But it figures that The Vertical imports will go a long way toward making up for NBA talent ESPN laid off: Marc Stein, Henry Abbott, Chad Ford, Ethan Strauss and others.

ESPN fired a bunch of NBA staffers so it could replace them with others. ESPN fired a bunch of MLB staffers so it could cancel their show.

We’re not going to get a much clearer view of the network’s priorities than that.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com, the Hartford Courant, Baseball Prospectus, Land of 10 and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • Deon Hamner

    Basketball is a growing sport and baseball, I’m sorry is boring and long… The regular season is too damn long.. I don’t even begin to watch baseball until all star break and even then its still early. When it’s august then I start watching. But until then, I’m out…

    • Nem

      This is going to shock you but not everybody agrees with you.

    • common misconception that baseball is long, comparetively speaking. the issue is the amount of dead time. most baseball games run the same time as an NFL game and way shorter than your saturday night prime time college football game

    • Billy Bayswater

      And the NBA season isn’t too long? Over half the league makes the playoffs, so what’s the point of 82 games?

    • Blind RedHat

      You out? Later then, pal. We won’t miss you. We don’t even know who you are.

  • Tom Ado

    MLB is basically the NHL except on a larger scale at this point. Strong in certain local markets, doesn’t move the needle nationally, unless there’s a once-in-a-lifetime story like the Cubs last season. Audience demographics don’t look good for 15-20 years from now either.

    • Billy Bayswater

      MLB ratings are better in just about every local market than the NBA.

      • Tom Ado

        Of course they do. There’s nothing to compete with in the summer. Still doesn’t mean jack in terms of national TV ratings, which the NBA has the advantage in.

        • Billy Bayswater

          The amount of the population that calls MLB their favorite sport is 3x higher than the NBA.

          http://www.businessinsider.com/most-popular-sports-in-the-us-2016-3

          • Tom Ado

            lol random survey with a small sample size. who was being polled, middle-age white guys? MLB’s 18-49 #’s compared to the NBA? Bad. 18-34? Even worse! Just stick the World Series on FS1 when the baby boomers kick the bucket! Viagra and Cialis are their main sponsors for a reason!

          • Nathan Walter

            The fact that baseball attracts an older demographic should be why ESPN covers it more. Older people are keeping their cable packages, young people are not.

            “There are generational aspects to this phenomenon, as young adults are the least likely age group to have a cable or satellite subscription. Some 65% of those ages 18 to 29 have cable or satellite service at home, compared with 73% of adults ages 30 to 49 and 83% of those 50 or older. One-sixth of young adults (16%) report they never had a cable or satellite subscription, while 19% “cut the cord.” (Source: Pew Research Center, http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/12/21/4-one-in-seven-americans-are-television-cord-cutters/)

          • Walt_Gekko

            Ad buyers don’t care about 50+, the demo that is more interested in baseball. Those 18-49 care more about football and basketball and THAT is what moves the needle now.

          • Nathan Walter

            Then let them buy ads to advertise to ghosts. I don’t care.

            But the facts are that younger people are cutting the cord at higher rates than older people. There’s no point in advertising to folks who don’t even subscribe to your channel.

          • Blind RedHat

            If you think 2,252 adults polled by Harris is a small sample size, then you don’t know much about how polling works.

          • Walt_Gekko

            Exactly. Basketball is as big as ever with those under 30 and the demos for baseball have been horrible for years.

          • nbtx27

            And annual MLB revenue is still more than $3B more than the NBA, even with the ridiculous NBA national tv contracts. Both are successful, I don’t see a problem with any of the top 4 sports.
            The issues will come in thre future with the national NBA contracts, the local MLB cable deals, and the oversaturated NFL expansion to anyone who will overpay to show a game (not the standard NFL network contracts.)
            We’ll have to see on the growth of streaming, but MLB is also positioned there with their BAMtech and MLB advanced media.

          • davesnothere

            Shoot that messenger!

    • Nem

      Soothsayers have been declaring baseball as dead for hundreds of years.

      • Tom Ado

        Different society now. This isn’t the 1950s and 1960s when people had no choice but to follow baseball because TV/radio options are limited. Baseball has a lot more sports/entertainment options to compete with now, and they’re losing the battle. Declining national TV ratings for the last 20 years (except last year’s anomaly) reflects this. They’re bringing in record TV revenue because local cable networks need live programming during the summer when they’re nothing else on, but anything dependent on cable subscription revenue is not sustainable. (see ESPN)

        • Nem

          “Baseball has a lot more sports/entertainment options to compete with now” And they’re succeeding despite this. https://cdn.howmuch.net/content/images/sports-leagues-by-revenue-9337-c600.jpg

          “declining national TV ratings for the last 20 years” You realize MLB has a dedicated streaming service, right? Ironic you accuse them of not keeping up with the times while you still think TV ratings mean anything in the internet age.

          Major League Baseball is not dependent on cable subscriptions. You’re talking nonsense. I think you’re letting your personal feelings drive you on this.

          • Tom Ado

            Revenue =/= popularity. Just means local sports networks overpaid for it because they need something to air besides infomercials during the summer. You’re letting your personal feelings drive you on this. Look at the local cable deals for each team and tell me they’re not dependent on cable subscriptions–that money will dry up as cord-cutting continues. True story.

          • Nem

            You’re just going to continue to ignore the fact they have their own streaming service, aren’t you? You’re the one getting left behind.

          • Blind RedHat

            Let him go. And let the door hit him on the ass on the way out. It’ll be funnier.

          • Walt_Gekko

            Sorry, but I have to agree with Tom. I love baseball as much as anyone, but the problem is the demos have gone WAY up on baseball in recent years in particular. I love the game as much as anyone, but I have seen this.

          • Nem

            How are those demographics calculated?

        • Walt_Gekko

          Or even the ’70s and ’80s when baseball was STILL the #1 sport. Younger generations care more about football and basketball.

      • The Captain’s Blog
        • Nem

          But revenue is actually a terrible way to determine what people are spending their money on!!!!!

    • Walt_Gekko

      That’s the real problem. My generation likely was the last that grew up with baseball as the #1 sport. In retrospect, the Supreme Court’s decision in 1984 that ended the NCAA’s monopoly on College Football broadcasts likely is why baseball has deteriorated in recent years while the NFL is now the 800-pound gorilla of sports and college football is its 600-pound junior gorilla.

      • davesnothere

        I recall the big concern in the early 1970s was that the surging popularity of football and other sports spelled certain doom for baseball, and the major leagues would cease to exist within a decade or so.

      • Dave

        What ruined Baseball as a mass loved sport is when Selig and MLB took too long to address the large market vs small market problem while the NFL centered its league around profit sharing and a salary cap. With the NFL every fan feels their team has a shot to build a winner with the right management. Many MLB fans like Florida, SanDiego, Tampa, Milwaukee constantly fear their best players leaving to larger markets so it’s harder to create a steady fanbase. You never see Aaron Rodgers leaving small market Greenbay but I keep hearing Manny Machado leaving for Free Agency next year to a bigger market team. That is why the NFL is a national sport and MLB is a regional sport.

  • Dan

    This has been pretty clear for a while. Truthfully, ESPN hasn’t really covered MLB all that closely in the recent past. MLB coverage really is just coverage of the Yankees and Red Sox, now the Cubs with a smattering of Dodgers sprinkled in. Of the major pro and college sports leagues – NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, PGA, CFB, NCAAM – the NBA is far and away my least favorite. That said, the league is popular with the demographic that ESPN seems to be seeking across it’s platforms. Oh well.

    While I do not like it, there is little (if anything) ESPN has done the last four or five years that I do like. The vast majority of the studio shows are entirely unwatchable, MNF has been getting a sorry lot of games for three years now and their coverage of sports beyond the NFL, CFB and NBA is scant. I guess my viewership will continue to decrease.

    • Matt Galvin

      They hired David Ross,Todd Walker,Mark Texeria this year to replace the 3 they let go.

  • Matthew

    It would seem to me that promoting baseball would be a better value. It gives your more content and a regular season that actually matters. However, this move really doesn’t matter because ESPN hasn’t given baseball fans a reason to watch in many years. They went from being the worldwide leader to the worldwide trailer.

  • Nem

    “reflects baseball’s gradually diminishing status in the American sports landscape”

    Utter nonsense. MLB’s been having amazing years recently as far as revenue is concerned. That’s a much more reliable method of judging it than the “sports landscape.” It’s a fallacy that baseball is on a downturn in America.

  • MrBull

    If espn can get out of the remaining years on the tv contract I believe they would jump at it…the hatchet job they did to their coverage shows they could careless about baseball….
    I honestly do not see espn carrying baseball in the future after the contract expires…Sunday Baseball will be on FS1 with FS2 getting other games….

  • my only concern is the amount of TV’s reach that MLBN reaches. if only it was standard like ESPN that would be SUPERB.

  • Chris

    Baseball has changed, that’s for sure. I’m old enough to remember when the Reds were nationally known and Pete Rose was on the cover of Time(when that meant something). I live near Boston and nowadays I can name several Blue Jackets(Atkinson, Saad, Foligno, Werenski, Bobrovsky). The Reds? Forget it. I assume Urban Meyer’s spring press conferences get more play than the Reds in Ohio.

  • Chris

    This confirms the NFL/NBA emphasis that made me turn away from ESPN. NBCSN is everything nowadays because of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Premier League. The only ESPN show I watch/tape on regular basis is “ESPN FC”.

  • BobLee Says

    This comment thread reminds me of the story of The Blind Men & The Elephant. Seven blind men each examine an elephant and declare an elephant mustlook like what THEY are “seeing” – ear, trunk, leg, side, tusk etc etc. …. Each commenter sees him/her self as representative of mainstream (“common sense”) America. i.e. what “I” like/dislike is The Majority Decision…. SO THERE.
    MLB is s the ONLY pro/college sport I watch with any regularity. Coll FB being a distant #2. Any #3 is insignificant; but I am a baby boomer and not the marketing target I used to be.

  • chasfh

    “ESPN … has always covered baseball like a top priority.”

    This may have been true once, but it hasn’t been true for at least a decade now. I gave up on ESPN covering baseball even before MLB network entered the picture. As far as The Mouse is concerned, baseball has long been secondary to the NFL, NBA, CFB and CBB. This is a football/basketball country, and as a baseball fan, I accept that. I don’t need baseball to be the #1 sport in the country—I just need it to be big enough for me to enjoy it. And I certainly don’t need ESPN. I don’t even watch the Sunday night exclusive ESPN games, because the 24/7/365 crawl along the bottom is 90% football/basketball/NASCAR, and they’ve even taken to doing those stupid Disneyfied up-close-and-personal segments about players *while the game is in progress* on a smaller screen.

    ESPN is baseball coverage for people who don’t care much about baseball. I certainly won’t miss it.

    • President Propecia

      I bought a device to cover the ticker (there’s a couple out there)…for tennis matches for me..let me know if you’re interested…not an owner, just hate the ticker 🙂

  • Nathan Walter

    I find it funny that MLB is letting ESPN air Intentional Talk on it’s networks. MLB just needs to realize the ESPN doesn’t care and break up with them.

    Instead, they left a pillow and blankets on the couch, because they know ESPN will be out on the streets. And they buy more groceries than they need to, because ESPN will go hungry. ESPN don’t love MLB anymore and has made that loud and clear, but MLB won’t kick them to the curb.

    • chasfh

      To be clear, “Intentional Talk” is not so much a show about baseball as it is a show about baseball personalities. That’s why it’s a good fit for ESPN.

      • Nathan Walter

        That’s true, but my point was not as much as if it’s a fit at ESPN as it is that MLB is giving ESPN another chance when they’ve shown that they just don’t care.

        • chasfh

          I don’t think it’s about MLB giving ESPN another chance to show them love. They’re merely establishing a wider distribution channel for the one show that ESPN and MLB believe is the best fit for the former, and that’s money in the pocket for them. That’s all it is. It’s business, not personal.

  • Nathan Walter

    A nine-year, $24B media-rights deal will obviously lend itself toward focusing on one sport over the other.

    That’s all this is. If ESPN bought more MLB rights (which they won’t, thanks to RSNs), they’d invest more into their MLB coverage. It’s a money play.

  • davesnothere

    It doesn’t matter what ESPN does. As it turns out, MLB, the NHL, and even the NFL, have their own networks that cover their sports ten times better than ESPN and generally don’t gratuitously insult their viewers in the process, and they’re all just a few click down the same cable line up. ESPN non-game programming is pretty much unwatchable anyway, as highlights have been reduced to a minimum, replaced by political commentator wannabes who don’t even know sports that well, let alone politics.

  • Dave

    Lebron is a huge reason why the NBA is big right now as everything is cyclical. The 90’s were a huge boom to the NBA during the Jordan years but the ratings crashed by the early 00’s when the Spurs and Pistons were winning. While I love watching Steph, Kwai and Isiah this playoffs, they don’t bring in the casual fan like Jordan and Lebron do, so ESPN needs to be forward thinking. Just ask the PGA in the post-Tiger years as the Sergio Masters was one of the lowest rated in years.

    As for MLB, I’ve been a huge fan since I was a kid but the length of games is killing the sport. It wasn’t like that 20-30 years ago when the games weren’t interrupted with endless relief pitching changes and batters stepping out to adjust everything after each pitch. Manfred addresed the issues with a timeclock but they just don’t seem to enforce it? 3+ hour games is too much compared 2 1/2 hour games when I was a kid.

  • The Captain’s Blog

    ESPN is cutting back on MLB not because of “gradually diminishing status”, but because of MLB’s superior media assets. MLBN and MLB.TV are competitors of ESPN that cover the sport better and with more depth. Considering that Disney (ESPN’s) parent is an investor in BAMTech (a spinoff of MLBAM), it makes all the sense in the world for the two entities to continue to partner with each other (instead of competing drectly).

    • PatHobby

      Hey, someone on here who knows what they’re talking about.

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  • Chunk Basker

    ESPN is pretty shitty at broadcasting baseball. Every time they broadcast my team i’m bombarded by 3 drull announcers who ramble about things unimportant to the game, while split screening interviews are pointless bits (sometimes full screening them). I’ve missed home runs and pitches due to these shenanigans. I can deal with boring ass announcing, but I do not appreciate small boxing my game. I hope this organization goes under, because they havn’t done a proper job in years.

    • nbtx27

      Totally agree. the Sunday Night game is an embarassment, the inane conversations, nothing about the game, the sophomoric “analysis” by Jessica Mendoza, the comments by her and Brett Boone, just do nothing to enhance the broadcast.
      It seems ESPN cares nothing about the broadcast and Rob Manfred should have an issue with how his product is being presented.

  • Chris Virnig

    The NBA is easily the worst product of the four major North American sports. What’s interesting, too, is that the NBA’s regional television ratings on RSN’s is steadily declining. But for some reason, it’s national TV ratings on Turner and ESPN continue to hold steady. This probably has to do with marketing and featuring premium matchups. But when you look at how boring and predictable the NBA’s playoffs are (and how utterly meaningless its entire regular season is), it’s hard to fathom how this league continues to prosper.

  • ESPN’s baseball problem is that they think every sport can be covered and hyped the way the NFL is – shiny, futuristic sets, whiz-bang graphics, four (!) hosts standing up around a table and occasionally acting out bb strategy (in suits and ties – awkward hardly describes it).

    Of course, when you point out that baseball is not that kind of sport and never was, half-a-dozen apologists start woofing about how gates/ratings have never been bigger, but they fail to grasp the simple truth that baseball is kinda “boring”…..but that, sometimes – in fact, more times than anyone in hey-looka-ME! media will admit – “boring” is good. Actually, “boring” is often healthy and rewarding. In fact, all too often, the people wielding The B Word as some kind of weapon are, themselves, tiresomely one-dimensional, narcissistic and – dare I say it? – kinda stupid.