ESPN is cutting ties to all their signature personalities. Next year, the Disney-owned broadcasting giant will begin a new journey, and neither Bill Simmons nor Keith Olbermann are going to be along for the ride.
John Skipper, president of ESPN, made this announcement in May:
“I decided today that we are not going to renew Bill Simmons’ contract. We have been in negotiations and it was clear it was time to move on… ESPN remains committed to Grantland and we have a strong team in place.”
The network’s relationship with Simmons has been strained for some time. Among other things, ESPN was upset by Simmons’ criticism of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell during an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show. Bill called Goodell “pathetic” and questioned his “testicular fortitude”.
It’s still unclear whether the network was more upset by Bill’s comments or the fact that he appeared on an ex-ESPNer’s radio show. It does seem rather coincidental that Keith Olbermann is also parting ways with the network after his criticism of the NFL.
Of course, controversy-free radio personality Colin Cowherd is also leaving the network. This leading many to believe these decisions may be motivated by much more than politics.
James Andrew Miller, the guy who literally wrote the book on ESPN, says that the network will save $10 million a year by losing all three anchors. If The Hollywood Reporter is correct, these moves are part of a network-wide initiative to cut $250 million from the budget by the end of 2017. Representatives from ESPN have called these numbers “factually incorrect”. Still, there does seem to be trouble in sports-paradise.
ESPN has reportedly lost 3.2 million subscribers in the last year, and around 7 million viewers since 2011. ESPN’s network also costs viewers four times as much as other sports channels, which is unacceptable in a market where sports coverage is readily available through a variety of mediums.
According to Deadspin, inside sources have said that “[Grantland] was only viable due to Simmons traffic and sponsorship”. For the moment, it seems like the site, and it’s signature content, will continue with Jalen Rose and Chris Connelly at the helm. Even so, with so much pressure on the network, it seems like a very dangerous time to start cutting down their tent poles.
It’s quite clear the ESPN ship is currently being steered by the suits. While network mainstays like The ESPY Awards have shown success adapting to shifts in culture, other areas have shown the same flexibility.
By a process of elimination, people like Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless have now become some of the network’s top personalities. As entertainment moves rapidly further into the information era, ESPN has chosen to double-down on their most outdated anchors.
It looks like there’s a storm headed for “The Worldwide Leader in Sports”, and they may find they’ve jettisoned some of their most valuable assets.