By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard
Mike Tirico, Bill Simmons, Brad Nessler, Skip Bayless, Colin Cowheard, Chris Spielman, Robert Smith, Justin Whitlock, and Matt Millen have all left ESPN in the last year. That’s a lot of talent walking out of the door of the ‘sports leader.’ Combine that with a decline in subscribers and ESPN’s chief John Skipper has got to be having a few sleepless nights.
Some would say that Simmons is the biggest loss but I would argue that Tirico is a bigger blow. He has been a workhorse at the network. He did play-by-play for Monday Night Football, the NBA, golf, college football national championship games on the radio and studio work for ESPN’s soccer coverage. He was one of the hardest working guys in Bristol. It will take three or four people to replace him at a minimum.
Tirico leaving hurts. As Richard Deitsch and John Ourand from Sport Business Journal point out on Deitsch’s podcast, Tirico leaving was a surprise as many people thought that he was an ESPN lifer.
Is ESPN in trouble? Yeah a little bit. While they have locked up the rights for college football, college basketball, the NBA, MLB and MLS for a while, they have to find new top quality play-play commentators and adapt to the changing media landscape. From cord cutting to the so called ‘death of the highlight show‘, there is a lot of uncertainty out there.
What they do have is the biggest brand in sports and possibly in America. They are the 800-pound gorilla that defines sports culture in this country. They have the money, the resources and know how to cover any sport effectively.
While they are in a rough patch, the fact of the matter is that Fox Sports, CBS Sports and NBC Sports are still a couple of lengths behind. ESPN has more platforms, journalists, and top quality sports to keep them ahead in the various metrics until they stop hemorrhaging talent and subscribers.
Is ESPN dying? Not yet but it is a bull that has been stuck a few times. They have to figure out how to expand their reach to the younger audience while maintaining their lead over Fox, NBC and CBS. It’s not an easy road but one they can certainly maneuver down successfully.
Word to the wise though, don’t let any more announcers leave.