Exactly one month after ESPN suspended host Jamele Hill for calling on people to boycott NFL advertisers, Sports Illustrated reported that the Disney-owned cable sports channel will lay off up to 100 employees, potentially including on-air personalities like Hill.
According to SI, the layoffs are expected just after Thanksgiving and will most affect on-air hosts, producers, executives, digital and technology staffers, particularly those working for SportsCenter. If the report is true, it would mean that in the past two years alone, ESPN has laid off 500 staffers.
ESPN laid off 300 employees in October 2015. Then, in April 2017, it laid off another 100 workers.
ESPN, like a number of other channels, has suffered from decreasing viewership in recent years. In 2011, ESPN was in 100.13 million households. Today, it’s in just 87.5 million homes.
SI attributed the decline in viewers to “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers,” the informal terms for consumers without a cable subscription. However, the increased perception among many viewers, mainly conservatives, that ESPN has become too political, may also have played a role.
Hill’s suspension last month is just one in a string of offputting, political statements. As you’ll recall, a month before Hill encouraged her Twitter followers to boycott NFL advertisers in protest of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, she called President Donald Trump a “white supremacist.”
Hill received no disciplinary action for her Trump comment because, as I wrote at the time, her comment was about Trump and media conglomerates like ESPN have proven time and again that they are much more forgiving when it comes to criticism of the Republican president.
While it may not be possible for ESPN to prevent any layoffs, the channel has chosen to put politics over people by continuing to allow its hosts and personalities to opine on politics, not sports.
The sooner ESPN realizes that viewers don’t turn to them for political commentary, the better off the network will be and the better off its thousands of employees will be as well.