Interesting note that popped up on Twitter the other day: Jason Whitlock has been let go by ESPN (it’s reported as another “mutual parting” thing, which may very well be true).
This piqued my interest, not because I’m a Whitlock fan; quite the opposite, in fact–I was hoping this meant an end to his fill-in role on PTI, which is now the only show on ESPN that I find worth watching anymore. Alas, the report linked above suggests Whitlock will remain on that show for the foreseeable future.
But like him or not, Whitlock is a “name” in the sports commentariat–and his departure from ESPN may very well signal that things are going on in Bristol, things that are not very worldwide leaderish.
Whitlock’s departure is hardly the first high profile move away from the Connecticut Clown College in recent times. Bill Simmons famously departed earlier this year, Keith Olbermann said yet another sayonara, and Colin Cowherd took his schtick–whatever it may be–to FOX not so long ago. One can argue that these are all cases of the network thinning out dead wood, and that may be so–except, when high-profile names leave an organization, the general reaction of that organization is to come up with someone new to push forward as the high-profile name.
That’s not happening at ESPN. Who’s the latest new talent who’s stepping up to take these places? There’s some excitement for Jessica Mendoza joining the baseball announcing crew, but none of the major departures were among booth crews; the herd is thinning on the commentary side of things, and unless I’ve missed something no one has stepped in to fill those voids.
If the network is not hiring new voices to replace the old ones, that begs the question: are they getting rid of the voices, or the salaries they were paying those voices? Olbermann and Simmons were both “not renewed” situations; Whitlock was apparently a different situation, with his involvement in a troubled editorial project apparently playing a big role in him hitting the bricks. But if the others were salary dumps–and the lack of prominent hires suggests that–then perhaps these departures are symptoms of something much more serious and fundamentally wrong going on with the Clown College.
We do know this: the days of ESPN ruling the sports roost virtually unchallenged are over. In the past few years the other major networks have jumped into the sports network waters: FOX Sports 1 (and 2, though no one gets that); CBS Sports Network; NBC Sports Network. And, of course, the leagues themselves have gotten into the action with their own proprietary networks. Just as the rise of cable TV fractured the audience and ate into the business of the original three major broadcast networks, now its a cable network that’s being cannibalized by other cable outlets–in some cases outlets that are the children of the original fracturing victims. (There’s almost a Greek tragedy aspect to the whole thing, or at least there would be if the subject weren’t so trivial.)
As I argued regarding the NFL and the challenges it faces, standing still is never an option for major corporations; growth is a constant need. Salary dumps are the actions of organizations that are seeing their operating room–and belts–tighten. From this perspective, it looks like ESPN is in trouble. The brand has been deteriorating for a while, and now it looks like increasing competition is putting the pressure on “The Worldwide Leader…” to reinvent itself–and all its doing is jettisoning the old, without raising up the new.
It’s often said that success often sows the seeds of its own destruction. I doubt ESPN will collapse and go away anytime soon–but it looks like its ominous seeds have already been sown and are starting to sprout. Coming soon: the reaping.