ESPN

ESPN headquarters, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, in Bristol, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Jessica Hill

There are people who would like you to believe that increased political chatter led to ESPN's downfall. In the age of Trump, how dare the Worldwide Leader in Sports, you know, not "stick to sports." 

It's a ridiculous notion. And while I could go on and on about why there's nothing wrong with mixing politics and sports — I do it daily on my Twitter feed — that's not the purpose of this post. 

ESPN's real problems are business decisions made over the years and its rise as the most expensive cable station on television. 

When I was a kid, ESPN was much different than it is today. SportsCenter was a big draw. The tag team of Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick ruled the roost. The network was, for the most part, focused on sports news.

A lot has changed since the mid-1990s. ESPN sought broadcast partnerships with the leagues. The network has aired Monday Night Football games since 2006. It picked up more college basketball and football games. It broadcasts Major League Baseball and NBA games. 

With its broadcast commitments, sports news became less of a priority. But there's not games on and ESPN is talking about sports, chances are it's in a debate format. 

"Around the Horn." "Pardon the Interruption." And the worst of them all, "First Take." While the first two are tolerable, the last is a symbol for everything wrong with ESPN. 

Still, that doesn't quite get to the financial issues ESPN faces. With ESPN pouring a lot of money into its broadcast partnerships, the hope is that it will get a lot of money in return. And the network does! But it's clearly not enough to maintain previous staffing levels. 

As cable companies adapt in an era of cord-cutting, ESPN was bound to take the biggest hit of any network. Why? Because ESPN's subscriber fee is the highest. You want to know why your cable bill is so high? One reason is ESPN. 

Earlier this year, it was reported that ESPN has lost 12 million subscribers over the last six years. That's mainly due to cable subscribers becoming former cable subscribers. People are dumping cable for a lot of reasons. For starters, it costs a lot of money. (Not counting internet service, my cable bill is about $80. And that's after I negotiated with Spectrum and talked them down from charging me about $120 a month.) 

Technology has had an impact, too. There are more ways for fans to watch games online. ESPN has online streaming available, but leagues have looked for alternatives outside of their existing partnerships. 

This was a dark day for ESPN. It was "Black Wednesday," if you will. Several big names, most notably Ed Werder and Jayson Stark, were let go. There are rumors that others will have reduced roles. 

Perhaps ESPN will use this as an opportunity to look in the mirror and change its business model. The current model isn't working. The broadcast deals aren't enough and the news offerings on the network aren't what they used to be. 

ESPN is at a fork in the road. The network faces an uncertain future. Now they must find a way to forge ahead without many of their best and brightest staffers. 

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