By Wes Williams
Disruptive innovation is a term used by economists to describe how an existing market is disrupted by a new market.
Think about Kodak. One day it was an invincible company since it was the standard of film. Quickly the film market was disrupted by digital cameras leading to Kodak filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2012.
Cable sports channels like ESPN are becoming victims of disruptive innovation due to chord cutters dropping their $200 cable bills for on demand web platforms and bunny ears.
Hundreds of extremely talented sports journalists at ESPN were laid off this week because viewership is down on television leading to lower than expected profits.
ESPN once feasted on television profits for years as cable companies bundled ESPN into packages. Many consumers had to pay for ESPN in order to watch the channels they wanted, even if they never watched ESPN. With chord cutters dropping their cable subscriptions for on demand platforms like Netflix and free live TV through bunny ears, ESPN is making less money from cable companies.
Less money equals cost cutting measures like laying off talented sports journalists.
Questions about Current Sports Journalists
So what happens to the sports journalists laid off by ESPN? Do they go to local news? Do they sign on with a team as a reporter or a play by play announcer? Do they sign at Fox Sports or NBC Sports? Do they try to make it with a blog or podcast? Do they go into a separate industry?
According to the public memo posted online, “Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent—anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play—necessary to meet those demands.”
Versatility in sports journalism means talent must be able to appear on television, write articles for the website, utilize social media, announce live sporting events, and share opinions on radio.
Will these laid off journalists develop new skills at a different media outlet to make themselves more versatile and valuable?
Questions about potential Sports Journalists
Up until recently, potential sports journalists were evaluated on the quality of their resume tape or examples of newspaper clippings. Going forward, potential sports journalists will probably be evaluated by their number of Twitter followers, play by play abilities, examples of radio work, web capabilities, and more on top of their traditional resume tape or newspaper clippings.
Imagine two students from a top journalism school entering the workforce after they graduate in a few weeks.
Student one excelled at the school newspaper for four years eventually rising to sports editor. This student does not do much social media because they are focused on putting out the top college newspaper nationwide. This person sends in three examples of quality newspaper work.
Student two wrote a few above average blog posts, has 500 followers on Twitter account, and once anchored a newscast for a class. This person sends in links to all of his content via his own website, which has had 2000 hits in the past few years.
Which student would a local news outlet hire? While the first seems to have the potential to be a high quality investigative journalist for a media outlet, student two might seem to be more versatile.
What is more valuable, numbers of social media followers or quality traditional journalism?
Does a sports journalist need to work for multiple companies or businesses in order to make a salary that supports a spouse and two kids?
For example, should an aspiring sports journalist work for a radio station in the morning doing a two hour show and then do play by play for a local team at night?
Does a sports journalist need to do marketing or sales for their media outlet during the day on top of their main on air position to add value to the company in the eyes of their bosses?
With fewer sports journalists on their payroll, it will most likely be harder for ESPN to cover sports with smaller ratings like baseball and hockey. Live events will most likely be relegated to NBA basketball, NFL football, and college football.
ESPN radio hosts will discuss these sports at length. In studio television shows will most likely have opinionated personalities break down games.
ESPN has already outsourced their nightly baseball shows to the MLB Network except on Sundays preceding the nationally televised Sunday Night Baseball game, which will now probably only feature games involving big market teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Cubs.
Will a fan of a small market team even be able to watch their local team play nightly if a regional sports network cuts back on how many games they cover?
If a fan wants news on their local baseball or hockey team, where will that person turn?
Will the person turn to team reporters on the team’s website, who might be biased since they are on the team’s payroll?
Will Fox Sports or NBC Sports fill in the gaps for fans of baseball, hockey, and college sports?
Will other web companies like FloSports enter the market by charging a fee to watch content from sports cut by ESPN?
Sports journalism changed this week leaving lots of questions for sports journalists and fans. It will be fascinating how all of this shakes out.