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The Moves That Led To ESPN’s Cuts

Jason Barrett

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As the names of the roughly 300 laid-off ESPN employees leaked though the sports industry at the end of last week, many longtime executives reacted with a sense of disbelief.

These weren’t household names like Bill Simmons or Keith Olbermann, who left earlier in the year. In fact, none of ESPN’s on-air talent were part of the cuts. Rather, they were friends and colleagues. There were the producers who spent their entire career on the ESPN campus and executives who are raising families in Bristol, Conn. — hardly a hotbed for sports media.

The cuts sent shock waves through the sports and media industries, incredulous that a company seemingly rife with cash would have to lay off so many good people. This was not a case of cutting fat, ESPN insiders say. Many capable executives and talented producers were shown the door last week.

The moves continued a troubled period for the sports media giant that started when Disney CEO Bob Iger told CNBC that “the business model may face some challenges over the next few years.” His remarks led to a sell-off of media stocks during the summer.

SportsBusiness Journal talked to more than a dozen senior executives — both inside and outside of Bristol — about how ESPN got to this point. All seemed surprised at the severity of last week’s cuts. None wanted to speak on the record because of the sensitivities associated with the layoffs.

All the contacts pointed to a combination of skyrocketing rights fees and deep distribution cuts that put ESPN in the position where it had to shed about 4 percent of the company’s workforce.

“The cost of goods is going up and sales are going down,” one longtime industry executive observed. “That’s not a good trend.”

ESPN remains one of the most powerful entities in sports. It’s still in 92 million homes and makes a whopping $6.50 per subscriber per month. And it has long-term deals in place with most of the country’s biggest sports leagues. ESPN President John Skipper spent Wednesday afternoon walking ESPN’s campus, projecting an air of confidence during one of the company’s darkest days.

“These changes are part of a broad strategy to ensure we’re in position to make the most of new opportunities to build the future of ESPN,” Skipper wrote in a memo that was distributed on the company’s website. “I realize this process will be difficult — for everyone — but we believe the steps we are taking will ultimately create important competitive advantages for our business over the long term.”

But last week’s layoffs offered the clearest sign yet that all is not well for the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

To read the rest of this article visit the Sports Business Journal where it was originally published

Sports TV News

FOX Doubles Ad Price For Premiere US World Cup Matches

FOX has capitalized by charging $600,000 per 30-second commercial during its coverage of USA/England.

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The 2022 World Cup is underway and the opener received a gigantic ratings increase for FOX Sports. Now, according to a report from Front Office Sports, the network has doubled its ad price for the USA match versus England.

USA/England will air in a lucrative window, at 2:00 PM ET on Black Friday, and FOX has capitalized by charging $600,000 per 30-second commercial during its coverage of the match. That price, according to Front Office Sports reporters Michael McCarthy and Doug Greenberg, is double what the network had asked for from advertisers for other matches.

While the event opener saw a sharp increase, the first match featuring the United States saw a decline from previous World Cup openers for the country. 11.71 million watched the match in the US between FOX Sports and Telemundo. In 2014, 11.1 million watched on ESPN and in 2010 13 million watched the first US match on ABC.

Analysists have predicted FOX Sports could garner nearly $125 million in ad revenue for the duration of the tournament.

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Sports TV News

Telemundo’s Miguel Gurwitz Announcing World Cup, NFL Thanksgiving Games For 18 Straight Hours Thursday

With the game expected to end at 2:00 AM local time, that means Gurwitz will be announcing games for over 18 hours on Thursday.

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With the World Cup happening at an unprecedented time, there were bound to be scheduling conflicts. The conflicts for Telemundo’s Miguel Gurwitz, however, might be the real unprecedented nature of the event being played in November.

Gurwitz works on Telemundo’s coverage of the World Cup while calling matches as the secondary play-by-play announcer. Beginning at 11:00 AM in Doha, Gurwitz will work the network’s coverage of the event.

But as the soccer day turns to tonight, Gurwitz will call Telemundo’s broadcast of the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings game from Qatar. With the game expected to end at 2:00 AM local time, that means Gurwitz will be announcing games for over 18 hours on Thursday.

He will also do the feat again on Sunday, as he’ll broadcast World Cup matches for the network during the day and then announce the Packers and Eagles game for Sunday Night Football.

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Sports TV News

Kevin Burkhardt: ‘Honor To Be In People’s Homes’ During Thanksgiving Broadcast

“There were a couple on the calendar that I thought that it might hit me and be very, very cool.”

Ricky Keeler

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On Thanksgiving, Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen will call their first Thanksgiving Day game for FOX when the New York Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys (4:30 PM ET). It’s been a memorable year for Burkhardt and Olsen in their first year as the A broadcast team for FOX that will end in the duo calling the Super Bowl in February.

Burkhardt was a guest on The Season with Peter Schrager podcast this week and talked about the honor of getting the chance to be on the call for a Thanksgiving Day game.

“The whole job is big and we are doing big games every week. There were a couple on the calendar that I thought that it might hit me and be very, very cool. One of them was Dallas-Green Bay, which turned out to be epic a couple of weeks ago.

“The playoffs and the Super Bowl will be great, but Thanksgiving Day. Growing up in a football family, it was kind of eating around both games. Catch the early game, halftime, go throw the football in the street, eat the meal between games, then the Cowboys game comes on, you watch that. Maybe halftime you watch or maybe you throw the football again. Watch the rest of the game, you have dessert after the game. That was the day.

“It is an honor because you are in a lot of people’s homes every week. I feel like you really are in people’s homes…. You are kind of like hugging everybody. I think it’s beyond awesome, I really do.”

Burkhardt mentioned to Schrager that he and Olsen knew they had big shoes to fill after taking over for Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (both now at ESPN) and it felt like walking in to a new job, but the A crew at FOX helped them and he liked that he and Olsen got to do it together.

“It’s been awesome. It really has. When you go into a situation like this, Joe and Troy were there for 2 decades, that’s a long time. People have long-standing relationships. Even though I’ve been at FOX for 9 years and Greg was there last year, we are the new guys essentially.

“You walk in, you don’t know how they are going to react to you, what they are going to think of you, if they think you are any good and all that stuff. From Day 1, it was like welcome to the family, we love you. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s been awesome. It felt like we’ve just fit right in. I think there’s been some cool symmetry, the fact that Greg and I got to do it together because we have such a bond.

“The fact that we got to jump in together I think has kind of been fun and helped us both because he knows me really well and I know him really well. Then, it was just getting everyone else to know us and vice versa.”

The one thing that Burkhardt did have to adjust to was a different style of show and that each production team has different viewpoint and creativity.

“The crew I’ve been on my whole life with Pete Macheska and Artie Kempner, they do a different show than Z (Richie Zyontz) and Russo (Rich Russo) do it. It’s not good, bad, or indifferent. Everyone has different viewpoints and creativity. I think it was just getting used to each other in terms of that, but it’s felt like I’ve worked with them for 25 years. It’s felt seamless. It’s felt fun.”

Even though Burkhardt is now the lead NFL play-by-play voice for FOX, that doesn’t mean he is going to change how he does a game.

“I’m not going to change my style or who I am. I’m not saying I’m not open to critiques and wanting to get better and to get coached. The basis of what I do and how I do it, I’m not going to change that now because I’m on the A crew. They liked me enough to put me here, so I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. Maybe tweaks here and there, but if I radically changed now, I’d be a moron.” 

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