The layoff news to come out of Disney and ESPN this week has been particularly brutal across various aspects of the business, and we’re not even done with the full scope of it yet.
Sports media insiders John Ourand and Andrew Marchand devoted most of Wednesday’s episode of their podcast to the layoffs and where ESPN goes from here.
Marchand was quick to point out that this isn’t ESPN’s first layoff rodeo. In fact, their layoff cycle has become sadly predictable and consistent.
“I understand there’s no loyalty in business. But when you look at what is going on with ESPN, I want everyone to remember what’s going on now with the layoffs in November when they break out their earnings and they’re tremendous, which they’re going to be,” said Marchand. “Yes, I understand how business works. I find it very greedy. Every earnings report has to be better than the last and so people lose their jobs.
“The thing that why I point to Iger and Disney is that it’s a great place to work when you’re working there… Now, for ESPN for example, this is the fifth layoff in the last decade. Every two years, there’s layoffs. Now, obviously, number one, that impacts the people who lose their job. Number two, it guts the place because everyone else feels like the ground is shaking under them. And then thirdly, and this is very important, merit isn’t always the case on who loses their job. It just feels as if, if your number’s up, your number’s up.
Mickey, he’s a passive-aggressive M-Fer.”
The New York Post reporter also notes that while Disney used to be able to count on ESPN as a cash cow, those days appear to be over. Their reliance on the brand they’ve built over the years will have to serve them while they figure out what The Worldwide Leader looks like while they attempt to find financial success in the future.
“It’s the Yankees of sports media, it’s still No. 1,” Marchand said. “But it’s kind of like the Yankees. The Yankees haven’t won in a long time. They might still be the Yankees but until they start winning some championships again they are not really the Yankees. I think as a company they are well-positioned. Jimmy Pitaro, who’s the chairman of ESPN, and Burke Magnus, they have set ESPN up well as a company in terms of all the live rights they own. But in terms of places you want to work at, I’m not sure it’s really that anymore.”
While the executives might be focused on the bottom line and keeping shareholders happy, Ourand shared an anecdote that put things in perspective for the day-to-day employees at Bristol.
“I want to talk about the morale in Bristol and among ESPNers,” Ourand said. “It is as low as any time I’ve ever seen.”
ESPN layoffs: Morale in Bristol is as low as I've ever seen it.
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) April 26, 2023
“We can pretend like the guts of the place hasn’t changed over the last ten years, but it has,” Marchand added. “It was a place that was never affected by this stuff and now it’s the place where you kinda expect [layoffs]. And that’s a huge difference in terms of how it’s viewed and it says something about the overall company.
“Doesn’t mean they’re not going the right direction overall, I do believe in what they’re doing. But in terms of being an employee there, it’s not a great place to be, unfortunately.”
CLIP: The business of ESPN has changed over the last decade and so it is not a great place to be as an employee.
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) April 26, 2023
Plenty of people are quick to point to the big contracts that ESPN has handed out to people like Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in recent years as part of the reason they’re in this situation. Marchand and Ourand both pushed back on that narrative, saying that there are two different issues at play here.
“A lot of people point to the Buck/Aikman signings and be like ‘They spent $33 million ay ear on those two guys to redo their Monday Night booth.’ Now, obviously, the money has gotten insane in terms of the NFL booths. I don’t think one really has to do with the other. And that’s why to me it’s also really frustrating. Cause let’s just say they hadn’t signed Buck and Aikman. Do you think the cuts would be any different today than they are?
“No, I think they would in exactly the same place as they are, and that’s the one thing about this,” responded Ourand. “They still have a business to run. How many 24/7 TV stations do they have in addition to websites and streaming services as well. And they need to make sure that those shows are good enough and big enough to bring in viewers.”