John Ourand: Morale at ESPN 'As Low As Any Time I've Ever Seen'


Andrew Marchand and John Ourand discussed the ongoing Disney layoffs and their impact on ESPN during their latest podcast, ticking through the moves that have already been made and contextualizing the impact the slow-moving ax of doom is having on the place. Obviously there's not much of a positive spin to put on the situation, yet it was interesting to hear both parties reflect on how much of the previous luster has eroded (at the 12:30 mark below).

"It's the Yankees of sports media, it's still No. 1," Marchand said. "But it's kind of like the Yankees. The Yankees haven't won in a long time. They might still be the Yankees but until they start winning some championships again they are not really the Yankees. I think as a company they are well-positioned. Jimmy Pitaro, who's the chairman of ESPN, and Burke Magnus, they have set ESPN up well as a company in terms of all the live rights they own. But in terms of places you want to work at, I'm not sure it's really that anymore."

"I want to talk about the morale in Bristol and among ESPNers," Ourand said. "It is as low as any time I've ever seen."

None of this is too surprising, especially given that this is far from the first round of layoffs ESPN has experienced in recent years. No one likes to be worried about the future of their job and see their co-workers lose theirs.

These are two of the most sourced-up voices in the sports media space and my paltry conversations with those at ESPN has been fairly congruent. I agree with Marchand's point about the company having a bright future when it comes to the business side as it transitions to being more focused than it already is on live rights. But on a base human level, it is very difficult to get excited about that if you don't know if you're going to be a part of that future.

This industry is brutal it's been several years since any illusion that ESPN would somehow be immune to the dreaded cost-cutting/job-reducing combination. So candidly, I am not sure how much the internal and external perception of the place can be changed.

There does seem to be a danger, though, if ESPN becomes even more like the in-laws and less like the family by valuing the things that do not have personality over those that do. That could deepen the chasm between the past (even if some of that has been romanticized) and the present. Of course, doing that could also help the future financial success and at the end of the day, shareholders are going to side with whatever best benefits themselves.