ESPN is in the midst of  massive layoffs. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

ESPN is in the midst of massive layoffs. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

ESPN’s broken business model is the driving force behind this week’s massive layoffs. The WorldWide Leader has lost 10 million subscribers over the last five years and is paying exorbitant rights fees to broadcast the NFL and NBA. Rising costs combined with declining revenue isn’t a sustainable business model.

That harsh reality makes it appear as if ESPN’s plight was inevitable. Cable subscriptions are way down in the era of cord-cutting, meaning all networks are drawing from a smaller audience pool. There’s fewer eyeballs to go around.

Despite those troubling trends, ESPN is still available in more than 88 million households (as of December 2016). Even though its parent company, Disney, ordered executives to trim payroll, ESPN possesses more resources than most other media conglomerates. They have the tools to turn it around.

But their lackluster programming is preventing them from doing so.

Given the vast number of reporters who have been canned, it’s apparent ESPN is moving further away from news and veering more towards opinion. While that may cause haughty media critics to bemoan the direction of the industry on Twitter, it’s the right call. In today’s world, where information and highlights can be accessed instantaneously on social media feeds, there’s less of a thirst for news-based programming. Comcast SportsNet New England went through a similar overhaul earlier this year, in which it downsized its news department and expanded its nightly debate shows.

The problem with ESPN is, their studio shows don’t offer much in terms of disagreement or provocation. Outside of “First Take,” which now features Max Kellerman doing a poor man’s Skip Bayless impersonation alongside Stephen A. Smith, few of its programs showcase hosts with varying viewpoints. The exception is “Pardon the Interruption,” but ratings for the iconic program are down by more than 10 percent in comparison to last year.

On a recent edition of Sports Illustrated’s media podcast with Richard Deitsch, James Andrew Miller, who authored “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” predicted the network’s new weekday lineup. It includes:

6:00-7:00 a.m.: Re-airing of west coast “SportsCenter” with Neil Everett and Stan Verett

7:00-10:00 a.m.: Mike Greenberg’s new morning variety show

10:00-12:00 p.m.: “First Take”

12:00-1:00 p.m.: New show with Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre

1:00-6:00 p.m.: Afternoon programming, including Dan Le Batard’s “Highly Questionable,” “Around the Horn” and “Pardon the Interruption”

6:00-7:00 p.m.: “SC6″ with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith

Evenings: Live sporting events

11:00 p.m.: “SportsCenter”

Midnight: “SportsCenter” with Scott Van Pelt

The rumored Greenberg morning show seems especially problematic. Given all of the options for morning TV, including partisan cable news programs drawing record numbers in the Trump era, it’s difficult to find a constituency for Greenberg’s inoffensive style. The networks –– CBS, ABC and NBC –– already have the market cornered on breezy morning talk. It seems unlikely the milquetoast anchor would be able to offer anything different.

Most of the other offerings, such as Jones’ possible collaboration with Torre, feature hosts who are hold the same worldview: progressive east coast liberalism. In a recent memo, ESPN management seems to grant commentators more leeway to talk about polarizing social issues.

“Outside of ‘hard’ news reporting, commentary related to political or social issues, candidates or office holders is appropriate on ESPN platforms consistent with these guidelines,” the memo reads. “The topic should be related to a current issue impacting sports. This condition may vary for content appearing on platforms with broader editorial missions — such as The Undefeated, FiveThirtyEight and espnW. Other exceptions must be approved in advance by senior editorial management.”

Considering almost every political issue can be tangentially tied to sports –– just discuss athletes’ and coaches’ reactions to news topics –– that means ESPN opinion makers will probably only provide more social commentary from here on out. In doing so, they’ll risk further alienating a broad section of sports fans.

In right-wing corners of the Internet –– hello, Breitbart! –– ESPN’s seeming liberal bias is often chalked up as the No. 1 reason for the network’s decline. While that’s a false assertion, it’s likely somewhere on the list. Americans are so polarized these days, their viewing habits largely depend on political affiliation. Pew Research found 40 percent of Donald Trump’s voters, for example, watched Fox News as their main news source. Meanwhile, only three percent of Hillary Clinton voters said they turned to Fox first.

There’s nothing wrong with embracing politics, but outside of Will Cain, who occasionally appears on “First Take,” ESPN doesn’t feature any high-profile conservative commentators. That means their shows lack balance.

Perhaps the most shining example of this imbalance is the new “SportsCenter” offering with Hill and Smith. Even though “SC:6″ may have been one of the most heavily promoted shows in history, ratings are down 12 percent in comparison t0 2016. The reaction to the program has been harsh, too. Yahoo finance writer Daniel Roberts tweeted this week roughly 50 percent of the 3,000 comments he received on a story about ESPN’s layoffs were people pleading with the company to cancel “SC:6.”

There’s little ESPN can do to change the challenging business climate. But they are in control of their programming. And right now, their shows fail to appeal to a broad ideological audience. Racial and ethnic diversity is important, but diversity in thought is even more vital.

Blog Author: 
Alex Reimer
The mass lay offs at ESPN continue for a second day. And are you watching Chris Sale take on the Yankees or the NFL draft tonight?

[0:18:28] ... if it's a different level yet to be yes yes I've seen Tom Brady go to when he doesn't sign isn't surprised meets presently still don't. And outstanding but everything if they wanna watch this guy. ...
[0:19:29] ... be African it and you'll be active William LA accomplished on the ice hockey city near you you an average of sitting around waiting you sit near ought to be doing drafting in between but this ...
[0:21:12] ... NFL has already told. You can't cheat anymore if you do your fire fighters who have. I'm saying you can't leak out any of these is picks which they've done in the past. I love and ...
[0:26:41] ... in this money helps create that nobody will be going to the Tom Brady foundation that's true I don't believe it's okay it's only an apple or cut. Spitzer you know exactly where the money's going ...

The Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley announced he was gay in a column seven years ago. But he says Bill Simmons tried to out him a decade earlier.

One more win for the C's means a ticket to the second round. But should we be feeling confident? The draft starts tonight and the Patriots don't seem to have any intention of participating in the first few rounds.
Steve Buckley announced he was gay in 2011. (Photo provided)

Steve Buckley announced he was gay in 2011. (Photo provided)

The Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley announced he was gay in a column seven years ago. But he says Bill Simmons tried to out him a decade earlier.

During the debut episode of WEEI’s latest podcast, “Two Outs with Steve Buckley and Alex Reimer,” the longtime sports scribe describes his coming out process. While Buckley wasn’t publicly out until 2011, he says he didn’t make much of an effort to hide his sexuality when around friends and some co-workers.

Simmons, who was writing for the defunct AOL Digital Cities in the late 1990s and early 2000s, often wrote acerbic commentary about Boston sports media members. During that time period, Buckley says Simmons made several thinly veiled references to his sexuality on his blog. Most of Simmons’ work for Digital Cities, including the articles in question, have been expunged.

“I’ve never really talked about this before, but Bill, during that period, made several references to my sexual orientation,” Buckley said. “‘Oh, he’s the most popular sports writer in Provincetown’ –– ‘wink’ ‘wink.'”

Buckley says the barbs “devastated” him and caused some angst. He was planning on coming out in 2003, but then his mother passed away, causing him to push the announcement back. When he penned his column eight years later, Buckley says he decided to not hold any grudges.

“I made a decision when I came out –– ‘Blood is a big expense,’ to use a line from the Godfather,” he said. “I wasn’t going to go carrying baggage for the rest of my life. If I saw Bill right now, I would talk to him about it. … I wanted to prevent the next Bill Simmons from trying to out me. So I dealt with it, and I moved on.”

When Buckley did come out, Simmons recorded a podcast with LZ Granderson, an openly gay sportswriter for ESPN. In it, Simmons seemed unimpressed with the timing of Buckley’s announcement.

“In 2011, is it too little to come out and write a column that says, ‘I’m gay?,'” he asked.

After the column was published, Buckley says he read some criticism from members of the LGBTQ community who felt he was exploiting the work of activists who participated in the Stonewall Riots and other seminal moments in LGBTQ history. He explains the standard-bearers of the gay rights movement laid the groundwork for him to come out.

“Someone wrote a letter to the editor in a paper that someone sent me,” Buckley said. “The basic message was, there were people back in the 60’s and 70’s and the Stonewall Riots, fighting the good fight, the AIDS quote and all of that, and they did all of the heavy lifting and then I just kind of swooped in and took advantage of all of that. Those were the real heroes. To which I say, ‘absolutely.’ But here’s why they miss the point: All of those noble people, beginning with the people who fought the police at Stonewall back in ’69, why did they do it? They did it so I could come out. They did it for me.”

Blog Author: 
Following the Sox loss to the Yankees, Lou comes out swinging on managers and writers alike.

ESPN gutted its MLB coverage Wednesday, laying off several prominent reporters and analysts.

 NY Post Sports — Grayson Murray’s open book policy on social media took a decidedly creepy turn Wednesday night.

The 23-year-old golfer and part-time model chaser, after admitting he “had a couple drinks,” fired off an inappropriate tweet to a young female fan after she posed the age-old question, “Why does everyone hate on @GraysonMurray?”

“Idk but I hate the fact you are in high school. You are pretty,” Murray replied in the since-deleted tweet, which had been captured.

The fan in question, a Dallas-based high schooler who had recently shared photos from her prom, responded to Murray’s remarks with, “Well thanks!”

Murray returned to Twitter on Thursday morning, switching the subject matter from personal to professional.

I cringed out loud when I saw this it’s so skeevy.

But I also laughed out loud. It’s quite a ballsy move and it’s kind of funny that he tweeted this as a quote tweet and not a reply where it’s at least a little more private. 

At least Murray did answer this girl’s question of why everyone hates on him. Certainly clears that up.

Here’s the first tweet he sent after he deleted the tweet in question: 

Way to subtly pivot to tweeting like a professional person and expect us to forget you just hit on a high-schooler. While this technique is frequently used, it is rarely effective. Screenshots are forever, as they say, so Murray’s clever attempt to distract us by tweeting about golf has failed.

Blog Author: 
Lucy Burdge
Karl Ravech (right) is reportedly going to see his role at ESPN significantly reduced. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Karl Ravech (right) is reportedly going to see his role at ESPN significantly reduced. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

ESPN gutted its MLB coverage Wednesday, laying off several prominent reporters and analysts. As a result, the WorldWide Leader is now looking towards the outside in an effort to beef up its baseball programming.

In a press release, ESPN announced it’s partnering with MLB Network to air “Intentional Talk,” the slap-and-tickle fest hosted by Chris Rose and Kevin Millar. The program will run from 4:00-5:00 p.m. on ESPN2 beginning next week.

The collaboration between ESPN and MLB Network isn’t a surprise, given Disney’s 33 percent stake in MLB Advanced Media. It appears as if ESPN is dramatically cutting down on its original MLB studio programming, with “Baseball Tonight” mainstays such as Dallas Braden, Doug Glanville and Raul Ibanez receiving their walking papers Wednesday. The Hollywood Reporter says “Baseball Tonight” host Karl Ravech is going to see his role significantly reduced.

While ESPN pays MLB $700 million annually to broadcast games, it’s apparent baseball coverage is no longer a priority in Bristol. That’s likely a reflection on MLB’s lessened national standing. “Sunday Night Baseball,” once a marquee property, continues to see its ratings flounder in comparison to the network’s other major telecasts.

MLB will still be covered more prominently than the NHL –– ESPN canned three hockey reporters this week –– but the gap is closing.

Blog Author: 
Alex Reimer
We waste no time picking apart Jimmy Butler and the Bulls after dropping a pivotal Game 5 to the Celtics. Butler's poor performance last night might have Glenn thinking twice about the C's pursuing Jimmy this off season...