ESPN Cancels "Highlight Express" And "Unite," While Schwab, Hoenig Among Layoffs
An ESPN spokesperson today confirmed that the company cancelled two of its shows and laid off their staffs. Last night's planned episodes of "Highlight Express" on ESPNews and "Unite" on ESPNU did not air, replaced by re-airs of other programming. It is not known how many employees worked on both shows, but these moves are part of ESPN's announced plan to eliminate 300-400 jobs. An ESPN source said almost all of the firings and cancellations will be completed by the end of this week. A source said ESPN decided to cancel the shows due to low ratings. Shown daily on ESPNews at 11:00pm ET, "Highlight Express" averaged only 42,000 homes so far this year, a 24% drop from the previous year. ESPNU's daily show "Unite," which just launched last August, averaged only 20,000 homes, down 28% from last year. Meanwhile, longtime ESPN researcher Howie Schwab, who starred in the show "Stump the Schwab," announced on his Facebook page that he was let go. Schwab last night wrote, "After 26 years at ESPN, I am extremely disappointed to say farewell. I have been proud of my association and my work during my tenure. I was a loyal employee, displayed respect for others, worked with numerous charities, represented the company well. I always did everything asked of me and more. What did I get in return today … word that I should get lost. The only thing that mattered was my salary, which in my view was the lone reason I lost my job" (John Ourand, Staff Writer). DEADSPIN's John Koblin cited sources as saying that ESPN The Magazine Founding Editor Gary Hoenig, "has been laid off." Hoenig, the GM & Editorial Dir of ESPN's publishing division for the previous five years, was the "first-ever hire" by the magazine. He is the "biggest name in the editorial department to have been shown the door thus far" (DEADSPIN.com, 6/12).
LOVE FOR THE SCHWAB: News of Schwab's layoff prompted a stream of support for him on Twitter, including a message from ESPN's Dick Vitale, who worked closely with Schwab for many years. Vitale wrote, "So sad to learn that many good ppl like my buddy Howie Schwab have lost their jobs due to cost saving decisions- Wish Howie THE BEST! … Howie knows that he will have work with me - definitely as a free lance situation-will have various research work to do." NBC Sports Network's Michelle Beadle wrote, "Seeing Howie Schwab in the hallways at ESPN with his jersey du jour and a big bag of chips was always a delight. #thatsucks." Author James Andrew Miller noted, "Mark Shapiro loved the guy, gave him his own show. Brutal." Campus Insider's Bonnie Bernstein wrote, "Whaaa? Nuts. No one could Stump the Schwab. True institution." CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman opined, "Sad Howie Schwab was let go at ESPN. To me he was ESPN." CBS Sports' Seth Davis added, "Shocked to hear ESPN let Howie Schwab go. Great guy, amazing at his job, a legend in the biz. Someone smart will scoop him up immediately."
THIRD DEGREE BURNS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Christopher Stewart writes "the numbers tell the story" with regard to ESPN 3D being shut down. SNL Kagan estimated that ESPN 3D this year was "expected to draw just 300,000 subscribers" out of a pay-TV universe of around 100 million homes. Horizon Media Research Dir Brad Adgate said, "If ESPN can't make a go at 3-D, what network can? I don't think this bodes well for 3-D ... The buzz is gone." Stewart writes the channel's closure "comes as the network, which faces sharply rising sports-programming outlays, has been cutting costs elsewhere" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/13). The AP's Peter Svensson writes the end to ESPN 3D "is the latest sign the format won't revolutionize entertainment as the industry once hoped." There have been "troubling signs for 3-D" for the last year or so. The audience for ESPN 3D was "below The Nielsen Co.'s measurable threshold." Data from the Motion Picture Association showed that box office revenue for 3D showings in the U.S. and Canada "was flat in 2012 from a year earlier" at $1.8B (AP, 6/13). ESPN VP/Communications Mike Soltys noted that the elimination of ESPN 3D "will affect two employees" (COURANT.com, 6/13).