ESPN Firings

ESPN makes steep cuts of voices, rocking viewers; Jeff Van Gundy, Suzy Kolber and double-digit others

ESPN drops some favorite voices to pay for Pat McAfee’s $85 million podcast

Podolsky

Last Friday ESPN let go 20 of their most recognizable broadcasters. Not because their work had turned for the worse, but because they could no longer afford to keep them.

When ESPN was first starting out in the early 1980s, its president, Steve Bornstein privately discussed charging viewers to watch. Instead, they charged the cable owners. As cable grew and ESPN added must-see events, ESPN’s fee to the cable owners kept rising. But now, some 40 plus years later, viewers’ habits have changed and with the rise of cable costs, cord-cutting has become prominent.

So after 27 years ESPN says good-bye to delightful Suzy Kolber and after 16 years to spunky Jeff Van Gundy, among many others. Few broadcasters, unlike NBA stars, get guaranteed paid contracts. Who can forget Kolber’s sideline interview with a wasted Joe Namath who tried to kiss her in the middle of it? Or Van Gundy always challenging the norm, especially when it came to officiating.

ESPN also let go of bright, handsome college football analyst David Pollack, who looked like a star on the way up. Letting Pollack go was like throwing away the baby with the bath water. And why did they send NFL analyst Steve Young packing? Was he making too much money? It certainly couldn’t have been for his on-air contributions, which especially during  the daily show Pardon The Interruption were beyond reproach.

No, it was all to simply to save money so they could pay podcaster Pat McAfee

$85 million to keep interviewing old quarterbacks.  For someone like Van Gundy, as good as he is, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else to go. TNT, the other NBA broadcaster seems set with its lineup. Maybe JVG will start his own podcast.

As much as we like some of the broadcasters who enter our living rooms, there are so very few that the audience actually tunes in to watch. John Madden was one of the very few who may have fallen into that category. As much as I enjoy Jim Nantz, if someone else were doing The Masters I’d be watching regardless.

So in the end, ESPN is saying it’s in this business to continue showing a profit. As much as they want us to love them, they’re telling us they don’t care how we feel about it, that they think they can make more money with Pat McAfee than two-dozen or so well regarded broadcasters. If you don’t like it, you can always cut the cord.

(Later today, we will list the names whom we know and who were indeed let go.)

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Rich Podolsky

Rich Podolsky, an established writer and reporter since the 70s, has been a staff writer for CBS and has written for ESPN, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Palm Beach Post, the Wilmington News Journal, College & Pro Football Newsweekly and TV Guide. He is also the recipient of the prestigious Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers' Keystone Award for writing excellence. A fan of music from the 60s and 70s, he is the author of "Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear," which relates how Kirshner discovered Bobby Darin, Carole King and Neil Sedaka among others, and "Neil Sedaka, Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor,” which tells the inside story of Sedaka’s comeback. His new book, “You Are Looking Live!” is about CBS’ revolutionary pregame show in 1975 which introduced Brent, Phyllis, Irv and The Greek to America.

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Michael Green
7 months ago

I have no problem with cutting the cord. If they can afford McAfee and Buck/Aikman, they can afford these people.

And that reminds me of a book by onetime CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Tom Fenton, who was around when that title meant something. He wrote a book decrying the lack of foreign news coverage, and Tom Brokaw told him he offered to give salary back to NBC if they would hire more staff. They told him the money would go back into producing bad pilots for bad TV shows.