The day that we have been counting down to in the sports media world has arrived. As first reported by Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, ESPN is set to make dramatic reductions to its on-air staff Friday.
“Given the current environment, ESPN has determined it necessary to identify some additional cost savings in the area of public-facing commentator salaries, and that process has begun,” the company said in a statement. “This exercise will include a small group of job cuts in the short-term and an ongoing focus on managing costs when we negotiate individual contract renewals in the months ahead. This is an extremely challenging process, involving individuals who have had tremendous impact on our company. These difficult decisions, based more on overall efficiency than merit, will help us meet our financial targets and ensure future growth.”
Jeff Van Gundy is the first big name to be confirmed as out at the company. He had been at ESPN for 16 years calling NBA games. Van Gundy just finished calling the NBA Finals alongside Mike Breen and Mark Jackson, and concludes his ESPN career just short of calling 100 Finals matchups. The basketball color commentator and former NBA head coach with the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets had one year remaining on his contract, and he declined to comment on the move when reached by The Athletic. ESPN is expected to replace him on its lead NBA commentary team with an internal candidate. JJ Redick, Doris Burke and Richard Jefferson are reportedly the most likely candidates to fill the coveted role.
Layoffs continued Friday morning when the network let go of NBA Countdown analyst Jalen Rose. Before focusing on the signature pregame show, Rose’s daily show, Jalen & Jacoby, ended after 11 years on the air. While he was still playing in the NBA, Rose began contributing to FOX Sports Net on the Best Damn Sports Show Period and also created his own production company, Three Tier Entertainment. It remains to be seen whether the NBA on ESPN will seek to replace Rose on NBA Countdown after he was part of the revamped show featuring Mike Greenberg, Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon.
The network’s NBA coverage took an additional hit with the departure of Nick Friedell from the outlet. Friedell was a venerated reporter for the outlet and helped launch the ESPNChicago.com platform. Before the 2018-19 season, his reporting shifted towards the Golden State Warriors dynasty, and he has since covered the NBA at a national scale. While with the network, he contributed to myriad programming, including NBA Today, Outside the Lines and SportsCenter.
The network’s football coverage took a hit with the layoffs of talent as well. Suzy Kolber is moving on from the network after nearly three decades in Bristol. The Monday Night Countdown host and member of the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame member confirmed on Twitter that she was among the network personalities let go. In her message, she expressed her gratitude for her time at ESPN and being a woman in sports media.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Steve Young was laid off from the network as well, marking another loss for the Monday Night Countdown crew. Young joined ESPN in 2000 and worked as an analyst on four Super Bowl pregame shows on ABC. Additionally, he has contributed to live game broadcasts during the network’s season-opening doubleheaders and appeared on its Super Bowl coverage.
NFL Draft expert Todd McShay has been cut by the network, seemingly marking a period of transition of coverage for the marquee event. McShay made his ESPN debut in 2014 as a college football analyst and had previously contributed to a wide array of its platforms. Additionally, he served as the director of college football scouting for ESPN’s partner, Scouts, Inc. The impact McShay’s dismissal will have on the partnership remains to be seen.
ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown‘s Matt Hasselbeck was eliminated by the network, with the news becoming public early Friday afternoon. Hasselbeck was previously a quarterback in the National Football League and made the transition on the same day he retired from the sport. ESPN utilized him on coverage of the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, along with providing analysis on ESPN Radio, NFL Live and SportsCenter. Matt’s brother, Tim, currently works as a football analyst for ESPN and the ACC Network.
College football coverage felt the impact of the talent layoffs with the departure of college football analyst David Pollack. Formerly a member of the University of Georgia football team and an NFL linebacker, Pollack had been with ESPN since 2009 and on College GameDay since 2011. Throughout his time with the network, he worked as an analyst on the network’s Thursday Night College Football broadcast and also co-hosted Palmer & Pollack on ESPNU. Prior to joining ESPN, Pollack was a sports radio host at 790 The Zone in Atlanta, Ga. and worked on studio coverage for CBS Sports.
News leaked last week that ESPN Radio is ending its morning show, Keyshawn, JWill and Max. While Jay Williams’ contract is set to expire this fall, Friday news broke that Keyshawn Johnson and Max Kellerman had both been let go. Johnson made regular appearances on NFL Live and First Take. Kellerman had been hosting a show called This Just In, which was expected to be cancelled to make room for Pat McAfee’s show this fall.
ESPN Radio also lost Jason Fitz to the layoffs, who worked on Fitz & Harry with Harry Douglas since 2013. Before working with Douglas, Fitz previously hosted an ESPN Radio program with ESPN personality and espnW writer Sarah Spain. In addition to his roles on radio, Fitz made contributions to ESPN’s digital coverage as a host of SportsCenter on Snapchat and First Take, Your Take.
College basketball coverage took a hit too. LaPhonso Ellis is out after fourteen years in Bristol. Ellis was one of the network’s most prominent men’s college hoops analysts, having been a part of College GameDay since the 2009-2010 season.
On the football side, College GameDay correspondent and reporter Gene Wojciechowski announced his exit from the network and expressed his gratitude for his colleagues throughout his 25-and-a-half years working for the company. Before joining ESPN, Wojciechowski worked for the Chicago Tribune and reported on national college football and basketball. While working for ESPN, he was a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a national columnist for ESPN.com where he reported on college football, golf and various other sports.
Aside from Ellis, ACC Huddle host and college basketball analyst Jordan Cornette was dismissed from the network. While with the “Worldwide Leader,” Cornette augmented his versatility by working both in studio and on site for matchups. His tenure with the network began in 2018 after co-hosting Kap & Co. on ESPN 1000 in Chicago.
Staff writer Joon Lee took to Twitter to announce that he is out. Lee arrived at ESPN nearly four years ago after a stint at Bleacher Report, and primarily contributed to the network’s baseball coverage. Digital entities at the network utilized Lee to report news and produce longform feature content, including an examination on women in the sport and the unwritten rules of the game. While he does not know his next move, it should be noted that Lee has experience writing for newspapers, such as The Washington Post and Boston Herald.
Ashley Brewer has also been terminated by the network – the first SportsCenter-related departure announced on Friday. The versatile talent, based in Los Angeles, Calif., had been used in a variety of ways across both ABC and ESPN. Brewer inked a new contract with ESPN two years ago, a career milestone that started when she worked as a college football sideline reporter in Tucson, Ariz.
Some cuts were known before Friday, trickling out in recent weeks as the network prepared for the deluge of difficult decisions.
Football analyst Rob Ninkovich and hockey analyst Chris Chelios have already been let go. Longtime SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett chose to leave rather than take a reduced salary. ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro reportedly chose to go forward with this extra round of layoffs, which goes beyond The Walt Disney Company mandate of 7,000 employees to slash $5.5 billion in costs.
Since it is considered to be its own distinct business by The Walt Disney Company under reorganization from chief executive officer Bob Iger, ESPN will report its own financial metrics for the first time this November. According to sources, the numbers are expected to be impressive, but the layoffs are representative of prudence to ensure sustained success in the rapidly evolving media ecosystem. The company is also reportedly developing a direct-to-consumer option through “Project Flagship,” and is expected to arrive in 2025 or 2026.
Barrett Sports Media will not speculate on who is and is not in trouble. We will keep a running list throughout the day of who has been let go as those reports become public.
Mina Kimes: Deshaun Watson ‘Bailed Out Our Entire Industry by Being Bad’
“If he was playing well, I would be inundated by hate mail right now because that’s what happens
Mina Kimes was not alone in condemning the Cleveland Browns for signing Deshaun Watson to a record guaranteed contract as he was facing dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct. This is the first full season Watson has played for the Browns and he has been less than impressive through the first two weeks of the season.
Kimes says that in a strange way, it something she and her colleagues should be happy about.
“This dude just bailed out our entire industry by being bad,” she said this week on Pablo Torre Finds Out.
She said that she has talked to a number of fellow NFL analysts and writers that feel “a little bit of relief” that there is nothing about Watson to celebrate right now.
It isn’t lost on Kimes that maybe not having to talk about Deshaun Watson like he is any other star in the NFL isn’t necessarily a good thing.
“We never had to reckon with, and maybe we will. You know, it’s been two weeks, but we certainly haven’t, so far, had to reckon with that cognitive dissonance in what it would have entailed,” she said.”
Winning and outstanding performance can scrub clean a lot of scandal in the minds of the public. Kimes noted that even mentioning the allegations against Watson would be met very differently if he weren’t struggling.
“Right now, because he’s playing bad, because he’s playing poorly, if you were to put a clip of me saying something about the fact that he was accused of all these sexual crimes and misdemeanors and whatnot, and if you put that out now, I would not get heat,” she said. “That’s what I want to drill down on here. Like, if you aggregated this and put it out, I would not get hate mails. If he was playing well, I would be inundated by hate mail right now because that’s what happens.”
Shannon Sharpe: Skip Bayless and I ‘Barely Talked’
“It was really like a heavyweight fight.”
As Shannon Sharpe gave a heartfelt goodbye to his longtime Undisputed co-host Skip Bayless, it marked the end of a near seven-year run together on FOX Sports 1. For two-and-a-half hours each morning, Sharpe and Bayless would debate the sports topics of the day and help define an era of debate television. Directly opposing them for most of that time was First Take on ESPN, a show that they had both been a part of in varying capacities over the years.
Stephen A. Smith, working alongside analyst Max Kellerman and host Molly Qerim, engaged in a similar format before the show adopted a new format in late 2021. As Smith utilized the deep ESPN talent pool to have experts on different topics oppose him, the show grew in popularity and, at times, left Undisputed significantly behind in the ratings.
Sharpe is now a member of First Take and is contributing to the program on Mondays and Tuesdays throughout the football season. At the same time, he is building Shay Shay Media with his flagship Club Shay Shay Podcast on The Volume and working to produce content in tandem with the media brand.
Nonetheless, he misses working with FOX Sports 1 on a daily basis because of all the people on the lot aside from the show itself. From the security guard that would walk him to and from his car every day to those in wardrobe, props and in the cafeteria, no longer being able to see them for 240 days throughout the year has been a difficult thing to come to terms with.
“People don’t understand just how hard I worked at that job,” Sharpe said in a recent interview on The Stephen A. Smith Show. “What they saw was the two-and-a-half hours a day, but they didn’t see the prep – the six-seven hours of prep time I actually did to get ready for the show [and] the re-watching of the entire show to try and get better.”
After Sharpe completed his protracted answer to Smith about the things he misses most regarding FOX Sports, the First Take featured commentator elocuted an observation he made therein.
“You do understand that in that lengthy answer that you just gave to my question, you did not mention Skip Bayless one time,” Smith said. “You do know that.”
There were reportedly growing tensions between Sharpe and Bayless that ultimately led to the latter’s exit from the network. When Sharpe officially departed, Bayless and FOX Sports 1 management began work on compiling a new cast and format for the program, which relaunched earlier this month. Michael Irvin, Keyshawn Johnson, Richard Sherman, Rachel Nichols, Josina Anderson and Lil’ Wayne have all appeared on the show as contributors, facing off against Bayless, an institution and influential professional in the format.
Sharpe has gone on the record numerous times to thank Bayless for everything he did to welcome him to the network and create a stellar program. The part that he revealed to Smith was that they did not have much of a relationship off of the set, even within the corridors of the production facility.
“Skip would get to work; I would get to work,” Sharpe described. “I was in my dressing room; he was in his dressing room. It was really like a heavyweight fight. We barely talked…. [and] it was not a carry on a conversation and then, all of a sudden, we get up there and do what we do…. It was very little communication.”
Some of the public perception of Sharpe’s time on FOX Sports 1 and the split he had with the network adopted the notion, “Skip Bayless made Shannon Sharpe.” The remark perturbs Sharpe, who was a three-time Super Bowl champion and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame before he started working at the network. As one of the most accomplished tight ends in the history of the National Football League, he had already been enshrined in the history of the game and sports as a whole in perpetuity. The aspect of his being that FOX Sports 1 helped him with was in becoming more popular and well-known, and it is something he owes to Bayless and the program itself.
“Skip Bayless did not make Shannon Sharpe relatable. Skip Bayless did not make Shannon Sharpe the storyteller that he is [and] Skip Bayless did not make Shannon Sharpe the football player that can break down plays,” Sharpe articulated. “….I miss debating him, but it had gotten to the point over the last six-seven months – and I won’t allow it to ruin the six great years that we had – but it had gotten to the point that we needed to go our separate ways.”
Rick Cordella Named President of NBC Sports
“Rick has been at the epicenter of NBC Sports for years with a proven track record of growth and innovation…”
Three months after Pete Bevacqua stepped down as the chairman of NBC Sports to become the new athletic director at the University of Notre Dame, his alma mater, the company has decided on its next leader. Rick Cordella, who has been with NBCUniversal since 2006 serving in a variety of different roles, has been promoted to the role of “President, NBC Sports,” and will report directly to Mark Lazarus, the chairman of NBCUniversal Media Group.
Cordella most recently served as the president of programming for NBC Sports and Peacock Sports, a role in which he oversaw strategy for the sustained growth of both platforms. Peacock will be the exclusive home of a game within the NFL Wild Card round on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, marking the first time such an occurrence is taking place. Cordella was an integral member of the founding team for Peacock and served as the chief commercial officer for the over-the-top (OTT) streaming service. Under his leadership, NBC Sports garnered the accolade for the most-streamed Olympics and Super Bowl in history as the platform more than doubled its subscriber count year-over-year (YoY) to 24 million.
The six-time Sports Emmy Award winner began his tenure with the company within its fantasy sports properties, specifically overseeing Rotoworld and a variety of additional websites under its purview. Cordella was also a board member of FanDuel and represented NBC Sports on behalf of its investment in the sportsbook and gambling company. Additionally, he also has experience in digital media and has worked on the launch of several direct-to-consumer and online services, including NBC Sports Gold, ProFootballTalk and NBCSports.com, while also outlining content and editorial strategy.
“Rick has been at the epicenter of NBC Sports for years with a proven track record of growth and innovation across all platforms, particularly our flagship NBC network as well as Peacock, where he helped architect our leadership role in sports and streaming,” Lazarus said in a statement. “Rick will oversee the evolution of our business as we continue to offer the best experiences and content to our viewers, as well as be the best partner to leagues and rights holders.”
NBC is in the second year of a $20 billion media rights contract with the National Football League, primarily centered on its Sunday Night Football property. The lead broadcast booth of Mike Tirico, Cris Collinsworth and Melissa Stark is in its second season working together. NBC also started broadcasting Big Ten Conference football games this fall with its new B1G Ten Saturday property featuring Noah Eagle, Todd Blackledge and Kathryn Tappen.
The company recently reacquired the rights for WWE SmackDown, which will air weekly starting in Oct. 2024 on USA Network, and will produce four specials in prime time each year as part of the deal. NBC is paying $7.75 billion to broadcast the Olympic Games through the 2028 festivities in Los Angeles, Calif., and has been working with Major League Baseball to present an exclusive Sunday morning contest on Peacock each week. These properties, plus other aspects of its business, will be under the leadership of Lazarus, Cordella and other executives at the company.
“It’s a continuation of what we’ve been doing,” Cordella told John Ourand of Sports Business Journal. “It’s less about this being the start of a new day and more about how we’re going to keep executing the way we have.”