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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

Netflix CEO: ‘We’re Not Anti-Sports, We’re Just Pro-Profit’

“He characterized expensive media rights as a “loss leader” in the streaming world and noted that Netflix doesn’t view sports as a necessity to grow.”

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Netflix will not join Apple and Amazon in the rush to gobble up live sports rights. Co-CEO Ted Sarandos addressed the streaming giant’s disinterest at the UBS Global Technology, Media & Telecom Conference on Wednesday.

He characterized expensive media rights as a “loss leader” in the streaming world and noted that Netflix doesn’t view sports as a necessity to grow.

“We’re not anti-sports,” Sarandos said according to Deadline. “We’re just pro-profit. We have yet to figure out how to do it. But I’m very confident we can get twice as big as we are without sports.” 

Questions about the interest the company has in carrying live sports have come up several times in the past. Sarandon made similar comments last year when asked about it.

Reed Hastings, Sarandos’s co-CEO at Netflix, has a slightly different view. In 2021, he indicated that Netflix could be interested in F1 rights someday thanks to the success of its documentary series Drive to Survive, but that would be a special case. Any league interested in doing business with Netflix, he said, would have to allow Netflix to control all of its content.

Ted Sarandos echoed that sentiment in his most recent comments. He said that the company does not see a way to profit by “renting big-league sports.”

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Sports TV News

FOX Sued for Patent Infringement Over NFL Scheduling

“Recentive Analytics filed suit against FOX in a Delaware federal court on November 29 according to Yahoo Sports.”

Jordan Bondurant

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An analytics company is suing FOX over claims that the network developed a mapping tool using their patented technology to create a season slate of NFL games.

Recentive Analytics filed suit against FOX in a Delaware federal court on November 29 according to Yahoo Sports.

The lawsuit claims FOX used access to Recentive’s predictive analytics tools to develop a resource of their own that would create optimal schedules for its 1 and 4 p.m. NFLwindows.

The company is seeking a declaration that FOX infringed on two of its patents. Recentive is also suing for damages and wants an injunction keeping FOX from using Recentive tech and preventing the network from “selling, offering for sale, marketing or using any internal network and mapping analytics tool for the scheduling and regionalization of events covered by the patents.”

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Sports TV News

FOX Will Use Chris Fallica On Belmont Stakes Coverage

“While the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby remain at NBC, The Belmont Stakes is moving to FOX as part of the network’s deal with the New York Racing Association.”

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The Bear will be more than just a college football presence when he moves to FOX. Chris Fallica wrapped his final duties for ESPN last week and is now headed to a new network and will tackle some new responsibilities.

Fallica’s new role at FOX will involve plenty of sports gambling content. Richard Deitsch of The Athletic reports that content will include horse racing.

“One Fox Sports source said look for him to appear on the Belmont Stakes coverage,” Deitsch wrote in his weekly media column.

Starting in 2023, horse racing’s Triple Crown will not be seen all in one place. While the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby remain at NBC, The Belmont Stakes is moving to FOX as part of the network’s deal with the New York Racing Association.

How the network intends to use Chris Fallica on the broadcast is not clear. Given that he is coming to the network to contribute to gambling conversations, it is likely he would either be making picks or at least reviewing odds right up to the start of the race.

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