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Volume 24 No. 156

Media

ESPN's layoffs yesterday showed that even the "most formidable media kingdom was vulnerable to the transformation upending the sports broadcasting industry as more and more people turn away from cable," according to Drape & Barnes of the N.Y. TIMES. ESPN is "by far the biggest and most powerful entity in the sports media industry, and it has felt the sting as viewers turn away from traditional ways of consuming live sports." The net has lost "more than 10 million subscribers over the past several years," while the "cost of broadcasting major sports has continued to rise." Author James Andrew Miller said, "ESPN was wrapped in Teflon for many years, but big payouts for rights fees plus significant losses in their subscriber base were like punches to the gut and head, and now the company is trying to make sure they are strong enough to fight in the future." Drape & Barnes note the layoffs come as Disney "accelerates efforts to introduce an ESPN-branded subscription streaming service." The offering, expected this year and made possible by Disney’s $1B purchase in '16 of part of BAMTech, MLB’s streaming division, will "include coverage of sports like hockey, tennis, cricket and college sports -- mostly rights that are owned by ESPN, but not televised" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/27). 

IMPACT OF CORD-CUTTING: In Hartford, Stephen Singer in a front-page piece notes as the cable TV industry faces increasing pressure from cord-cutting, layoffs at ESPN "have been expected." The number of households with ESPN's flagship station has "fallen from 99 million to 88 million" in the last three years. At about $7 per month per sub for ESPN alone, by far the "largest carriage fee of any cable network," that would exceed a $900M decline in "annual revenue over the last several years, if all other revenues remained equal." Cord-cutting is "not slowing, as TV viewers have a growing menu of online 'over-the-top' options" (HARTFORD COURANT, 4/27). Seattle-based KING-NBC's Steve Bunin, who worked at ESPN from '03-'12, wrote the net has "two basic options" to make up the lost revenue from cord-cutters -- "cut salary or cut TV rights." Though the company might be able to save up to $200M "in one fell swoop by sacrificing (or letting the contracts expire for) their rights to Big 12 basketball, or international soccer, or the NBA, or MLB, that would also mean less content for ESPN." Bunin: "Less content makes it less desirable for the Average Joe, who’s then more likely to be a cord-cutter, which means less money coming in" (KING5.com, 4/26). In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes ESPN "must continue to cut costs in a hurry or remain a drag on its owner, Disney's bottom line and stock price." He speculated the latest round of cuts -- ESPN laid off around 300 employees a year and a half ago -- will "not stop the bleeding" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/27). 

SIMPLE ECONOMICS?
In L.A., Meg James reports ESPN's layoffs come after the "latest round of sports contracts kicked in." ESPN has been "forking over substantially higher fees to retain its top-notch portfolio of professional sports." The net also is "spending more on programming to fend off competitors Fox Sports and NBCUniversal, which also are loading up on sports to build their businesses." Additionally, team-owned RSNs have "launched, carving the audience of sports fans into smaller and smaller slices" (L.A. TIMES, 4/27). SI.com's Jimmy Traina wrote ESPN is having "issues with ratings and finances for two reasons." Young people are "cord cutting and dumping cable," and the net is "paying an obscene amount of money to air games." A total of $39B has been committed to the NFL, NBA, MLB and college football, and Traina wrote when that much money is pegged "in this day and age of new media for just four leagues ... it's not going to be easy to make the profits Disney wants you to make" (SI.com, 4/26). In a series of tweets, ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady wrote it is "just silly" that some people believe the layoffs "were all because of politics or not 'sticking to sports.' Brady wrote the layoffs are "almost all about the less favorable economics of an unbundled cable world." Brady reiterated he believed ESPN has "drifted too far to one side politically" and noted there are "surely people who have abandoned ESPN because of its politics, or because they don't want culture coverage or whatever." However, just because "some want this to be about the karma of ESPN’s political shift does not make it so." Brady: "It's economics, pure & simple" (TWITTER.com, 4/26).

CHANGE IN EDITORIAL APPROACH
: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ramachandran & Flint write while economics is the "primary factor motivating the cuts, ESPN ... is also rethinking how it covers sports in an age with so many competing outlets." One source said that with sports news and game clips now omnipresent, ESPN "wants to focus more on building strong personalities and more opinion that will likely appeal to younger viewers." ESPN is also "looking to increase diversity and perspectives on its franchise shows such as 'Sportscenter'" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/27).

NEWS REPORTING TAKES HIT: Andy Katz and Britt McHenry are the latest personalities to take to social media and announce they were let go. The “vast majority” of ESPN’s 100 layoffs occurred yesterday, a source said. That means that the phone calls telling talent that they were being let go have been completed. The reason a source termed it a “vast majority” instead of “all” is because some of the talent are in the process of negotiating new deals and ultimately still could wind up leaving the network (John Ourand, Staff Writer) In DC, Matt Bonesteel writes ESPN’s reporting ranks were "especially devastated by the cuts, as a number of well-respected journalists who worked mostly for ESPN.com -- as opposed to the network’s on-air personalities -- announced they were being let go" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/27). Also in DC, Cindy Boren wrote ESPN for years was the "ultimate destination for sports journalists, many of whom made ungracious exits to go to Bristol." This was a "rugged day" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/26). In Hartford, Jeff Jacobs acknowledges ESPN "had difficult decisions to make" in who to let go, but in "too many cases, ESPN did not choose the better angles of reportorial endeavor." Sports journalism is "not better today than it was yesterday." Jacobs: "Too many screamers and preeners survived. Too many substantive reporters did not" (HARTFORD COURANT, 4/27). Author Jeff Pearlman wrote, "This is a shedding of quality. This is an assault on the profession" (JEFFPEARLMAN.com, 4/26).

ESPN let go Burnside, an NHL reporter,
as the Stanley Cup Playoffs heat up
LOSING THE PUCK: In Boston, Chad Finn writes the layoffs "offer a vague signal of ESPN's direction -- its hockey and college sports coverage teams in particular took a massive hit" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/27). In Toronto, Bruce Arthur writes ESPN "all but ditched hockey," as their "small but powerful crew of writers" -- Pierre LeBrun, Scott Burnside and Joe McDonald, among them -- were laid off. Hockey in America "succeeds in many markets, and struggles in many others, and nationally, it is a distant cousin of the big boys." ESPN had a "beachhead of quality work that respected the game, and all but abandoning it makes this a bad day." Hockey was "just a small slice at ESPN, and now it’s been cut to a ribbon" (TORONTO STAR, 4/27). Meanwhile, in Boston, Jordan Graham writes ESPN "came under fire yesterday not only for who was fired but for the timing of the layoffs." Some of the company’s top NFL reporters and analysts "were laid off days before the NFL draft, and at least two reporters covering NBA teams in the playoffs also lost their jobs" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/27).

Several ESPN personalities yesterday took time to address the net's layoffs on-air, with "SportsCenter" anchor Scott Van Pelt dedicating his popular "1 Big Thing" segment to the topic. Van Pelt said, "This was a very difficult day in our neighborhood. People we care about, some of our neighbors who have been here a long time, lost their jobs. They are our friends and yours. We value them because they’re valuable." He added, "They’re folks who'll bring with them great value to wherever it is they call home next. Our neighborhood will lose much in the absence of their presence" (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 4/27). Jemele Hill said she hopes that those who lost their jobs know that ESPN is a "weaker company without them." Hill: "Their work was valued, it was admired. They’re treasured talents, and I hope they don’t take what happened here as an indication that they’re not worth it in this business, because they are” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 4/26). Bob Ley at the conclusion at "OTL," said, "Usually we close ... each day with an item to make you smile or laugh. Today it is not a good day for that. ... A number of our colleagues are leaving us today here at ESPN, so today is that time to reflect on what they have contributed through the years to our many platforms, what they brought to you" (“OTL,” ESPN, 4/26).

TOUGH DAY FOR ALL: Rachel Nichols noted while industries "change and shift," it "stinks when actual human people have their lives thrown into chaos by that." Nichols: "It stinks because we will miss some very cool and smart and hard-working people who every day made things better and brighter around here" (“The Jump,” ESPN, 4/26). Tony Reali said, "There’s not much you can say other than today stunk and tough days in our industry are here. We must recognize there are tough days in many other industries as well" (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 4/26). Michelle Beadle: "It’s a very rough day for us here at ESPN. A lot of our friends, our colleagues are now without a job, a lot of whom have been here for decades and done a lot of service" (“SportsNation,” ESPN, 4/26). Mike Greenberg this morning said, "A lot of people that we know lost their jobs yesterday. It’s excruciating to watch. It’s difficult to see that happen to people that you know and that you care about." While he called it a "reality of life in corporate America," he said yesterday "was a terrible day at our company" (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 4/27).

FROM THE OTHER SIDE
: FS1's Colin Cowherd appeared on Cleveland's WKRK-FM yesterday and said the layoffs "are awful and they make me sick." Cowherd: "The good news is that most of the people let go are really talented, but this is all about business. When you have overpaid for products ... this is the result. It is awful" (“Bull & Fox,” WKRK-FM, 4/26). TNT’s Charles Barkley said, "This is a tough business at times and you see these people all the time on television and then you see them during events. ... I know a lot of them are household names, but we're thinking about them because ESPN is not our competition. We're in this thing together.” TNT’s Ernie Johnson said, “We're all in the toy department. We're all getting to work in sports and it's all fun and games. But then a day like this happens, and we’ve got a lot of friends up there. We wish you well” (“Hawks-Wizards,” TNT, 4/26).

ESPN is "moving its ESPNU studio operation from Charlotte to Bristol" as part of yesterday's layoffs, according to a source cited by Katherine Peralta of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. A "few ESPNU positions will remain in Charlotte, primarily the people responsible for producing the large number of events that air on the channel." ESPNU "primarily handles 'wraps' -- pre-game, halftime and post-game shows -- as well as NCAA selection shows and signing day specials." SEC Network and ESPN Events will "remain in Charlotte," and fewer than 10 of the approximately 200 people that work in the city "are being laid off" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/27). In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg cited a source as saying that ESPNU has "no plans to reduce its office and studio space ... since it is still home to SEC Network and a range of remote productions for college basketball and football broadcasts" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 4/26). The Raleigh News & Observer's Luke DeCock wrote he still expects ACC Network operations "to join them in Charlotte" when the linear channel in launched in '19. However, he added, "After today, anything's possible" (TWITTER.com, 4/26).

HOLD DOWN SOUTH: In Austin, Brian Davis reports there has been "no change" with the Univ. of Texas' relationship with ESPN amid the layoffs, and it is "unlikely the sweeping cuts will affect the Longhorn Network." UT Associate AD/Strategic Relations Jeff Orth said, "ESPN is a valued partner of ours and we’re excited to continue to work with them to deliver content to Texas fans.” Davis notes LHN "experienced cutbacks last year and ceased production of a nightly highlight show." UT receives about $15M annually from ESPN "simply for the right to broadcast the network." The contract runs through '31, and the net is "obligated to air 175 live events each academic year" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 4/27). 

ESPN this morning announced MLB Network studio show "Intentional Talk" will air on ESPN2 daily beginning on Monday. The hour-long show hosted by Chris Rose and Kevin Millar will air at 4:00pm ET on ESPN2 during the season, then will be cut to a half-hour version during the offseason. "IT" will continue to air at 5:00pm on MLB Network. ESPN MLB analysts will make appearances on the show. Meanwhile, ESPN also is scaling back "Baseball Tonight" solely to the Sunday show leading into that night's primetime game. The net will integrate MLB studio coverage into its multiple weekly game broadcasts (ESPN). SI.com's Richard Deitsch noted ESPN "owns a 33% stake" in BAMTech, the technology company "spun off" from MLBAM (SI.com, 4/26).

SAYING GOODBYE TO COLLEAGUES
: ESPN's layoffs were addressed at the conclusion of last night's "Baseball Tonight," with host Karl Ravech noting analysts Dallas Braden, Doug Glanville and Raul Ibanez were let go. They join fellow "Baseball Tonight" analysts Jayson Stark and Jim Bowden, who announced the news themselves on Twitter yesterday, as casualties of the layoffs. Ravech said, "Today at ESPN was a very difficult day, as the family got broken up. ... We love them, thanks for their contributions. We know they’ll be successful in their next steps.” ESPN's Adnan Virk said, "We feel like we’re saying goodbye to members of our family today, and this is awfully difficult to do. But we want to pay tribute to them and just honestly appreciate their contributions.” ESPN’s Aaron Boone: “One thing we take comfort in all five guys we highlighted tonight is we know how successful they’re going to be in whatever’s next for them” (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN, 4/26).

ESPN and NFL Network once again have "agreed that their staffers will not tip picks on social media" during the first round of the NFL Draft prior to Commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the pick at the podium, according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Seth Markman said that ESPN staffers "will not tweet out picks in the first round ahead of Goodell." Markman: "We will allow our staffers to tweet any behind the scenes conversations teams are having, trade talks, debates, etc., but what we won’t allow is for them to flat out give away draft picks before the commissioner announces them. As I have said in the past, our viewers have overwhelmingly told us that they do not want us to spoil the drama of the draft in any way. This goes for Twitter, too. I realize that there are those who disagree with this approach, but we are not in the business of angering our loyal viewers and I personally like the unspoiled nature of this event." NFL Network Coordinating Producer Charlie Yook said that network staffers "will not be tipping any picks on Twitter on the second round as well" (SI.com, 4/23). 

TAKING A DIFFERENT ROUTE: AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Andrew Bucholtz notes Yahoo Sports, which has done streaming shows for other events like NBA free agency, is now doing one for the NFL Draft, "providing live coverage on both Day One and Day Two." Unlike ESPN and NFL Network, Yahoo said that it "may break some news of picks before they're officially announced." Yahoo Sports Executive Producer Alan Springer said, "After the success of the The Vertical’s NBA Draft Show last year we realized there was definitely a market for our type of livecast of the NFL draft." Springer said that a "key lesson from the NBA Draft coverage is that their coverage can be a primary source for fans, not just something they’re also looking at on a second screen." Springer: "We can announce a pick before the commissioner does -- if we know the pick -- and supply strong, informed opinion with no holding back" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 4/25). SI.com's Deitsch noted SI has an NFL Draft show today "running on SI.com and Facebook that looks pretty cool." The show will be "anchored by Maggie Gray, Andy Staples and Albert Breer, with a second set featuring Pro Football Focus staffers Steve Palazzolo and Mike Renner." SI's draft show goes live at 7:45pm ET (SI.com, 4/25). NFL streaming partner TuneIn will broadcast live from the NFL Draft with its show, "NFL No Huddle," with Brian Webber, Kordell Stewart and guest draft analyst Dan Shonka. TuneIn also will provide live audio of NFL Network’s NFL Draft coverage (TuneIn).

LOVE ME TWO TIMES
: NFL.com's Ed Sherman noted Yook "plans to highlight all that Philadelphia has to offer" in NFL Net's coverage. The main set, hosted by Rich Eisen, will be at the "iconic steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum." NFL Network also will be "set up at the Franklin Institute, where the draft will take place." There will be "plenty of shots of historic places in town along with many servings of Philly cheesesteak sandwiches." Yook said, "If the weather holds up, it's going to be very impressive. We're going to show the vibrancy of the city. I think it will shine literally and figuratively" (NFL.com, 4/24). In Philadelphia, Bob Ford wrote the worst part for Philadelphians during the NFL Draft "will be watching the coverage." Ford: "That's because television likes nothing better than easy material, and, boy, there is no city in the world that provides as brimming a satchel of handy clichés, memes, tropes, and banalities for the grinning, glib idiots of the airwaves as our very own City of Brotherly Love" (PHILLY.com, 4/25). 

WHERE TO FROM HERE? 
The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes the NFL Draft is the "apogee of the non-sporting event sporting event." It is nothing but a "series of phone calls between franchises, agents and players, artfully packaged and bedazzled into several days’ worth of television theater." The NFL "built something giant out of nothing." As TV concepts go, it is "nothing short of Hall of Fame brilliant." However, the Draft could "soon peak -- or has peaked -- as a cultural moment." Gay: "I’ll never dispute the must-see TV of live action like a Super Bowl or Steph Curry. But in 2017, does anyone need to be butt-bound on the couch to take in the draft?" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/27).

ESPN's Trey Wingo for the first time this year is hosting all seven rounds of the net’s NFL Draft coverage, part of the added responsibilities the veteran broadcaster is taking on following a reshuffling of NFL roles in Bristol. "I don’t see it as (more) responsibility," Wingo said. "I see it more of like the excitement of figuring out how we're going to navigate those crazy first few hours." Wingo replaces Chris Berman as Draft host this year. Berman, who had been in the Draft host's chair since '87, is transitioning into a new role at ESPN. "It was important to Chris that his replacements on all three of the things he was doing for us were all ESPN people," ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Seth Markman said. "He’s such a longtime supporter of this company, and really one of the founding fathers." Markman added, "I feel lucky that Trey is so ready to be that voice now. He deserves this opportunity." Wingo noted his contract did not change as part of his expanded role. Wingo: "I’m under contract for a couple of years. I’m completely happy with the way things are going here, and if things change, I’m certainly going to be open to that to. But things are great for me right now here."

KNOWN MEMORIA: ESPN does not have any planned tributes for Berman during its Draft coverage, nor will he make a guest appearance. Markman said, “What we did at the end of the season really spoke for itself as how we felt about him.” He did add that ESPN will likely mention Berman and his career at some point during the net's three days of coverage. The respect and admiration Wingo has for Berman was evident as he talked about his colleague. “When we first talked to the NFL in the late '70s, early '80s about doing the Draft, their response was, ‘Why would anyone want to watch that?’ One of the reasons people wanted to watch it was because of Chris Berman,” Wingo said. “He made it more than a list of names being called to the podium. He made it interesting. He made it funny. He kept you entertained. My goal is to make sure that doesn’t change. Whatever we do going forward is based on the foundation that Boom laid many, many years doing this.”

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: After two years in Chicago, the NFL Draft stops in the City Of Brotherly Love this year. Markman said, “You will see the fabric of Philadelphia throughout the three days. We’re shooting a ton of scenic material from the city. It’s two-fold: to cover the actual draft but also to give people a sense of where we are and where our location is and why Philadelphia is such a great, vibrant host city for this event.” Added Wingo, “You do get a real sense of a vibe with the crowd being that big and that into it.” The NFL has earned high marks for taking the Draft to different cities, and the league could continue to do so as soon as next year. The league is expected to announce next year’s site in the near future. Among the potential hosts mentioned by Wingo and Markman as good fits are Green Bay, L.A., Dallas, Baltimore, Denver, Seattle, DC and Boston. “It’s become an event,” Wingo said.

UP FOR WHATEVER: Preparing for the Draft does have its difficulties, as unforeseen events pop up, such as the Laremy Tunsil saga from a year ago. “The draft, to me, is the only true reality television show there is,” Wingo said. “Because none of us knows what’s going to happen. You could have made a lot of money betting last year that we were going to have to use the words ‘gas mask’ and ‘bong’ in the first round with what happened with Laremy Tunsil. No one would have said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s going to happen.’ No one knows what’s going to happen.” Markman added, “We always have to be on our toes. ... You can only prepare for so much. We like to think we’re prepared and ready to go, but there’s always going to be that live TV element to this.”

The experiment by the NFLPA to film and stream some NFL Draft prospects at their homes is a "substantial step" in the development of the union's ACE Media arm, according to Emily Kaplan of SI. The NFLPA is "helping organize personal draft experiences for three top prospects who decided to forgo the greenroom." Myles Garrett, who has been projected by many to go first overall, will have ACE Media "host an intimate gathering at his home in Arlington, Texas, where it will surprise Garrett with appearances by two of his football idols." ACE also will "bring the celebration" to K.C. for former Missouri DE Charles Harris, who "wanted to be with his mother," as she has multiple sclerosis and cannot travel. Former Ohio State S Malik Hooker "felt restricted by the NFL's two-guest restriction, so he's hosting a bash in his hometown, New Castle, Pa., for 50 of his nearest and dearest friends, with cameras and food provided by ACE." ACE launched in '15, "aiming to portray the off-field lives of players while helping them build their own brands." Having the union handle the presentation of these Draft prospects may be helpful to them, as the league's greenroom optics "can be unflattering." Last year, as pundits "debated the authenticity of the footage" showing Dolphins OT Laremy Tunsil smoking through a gas mask, he fell to the 13th overall, "losing millions on the way." When cameras honed in on Tunsil, who was sitting next to his mother, he was "on the verge of tears." NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith said, "We want our players to understand (that while) their position in the NFL is a wonderful opportunity, they also have a brand and an identity that's separate from it" (SI, 5/1 issue).

NBC and Snapchat today will debut NBC Sports’ first ever Snapchat lens as part of its Stanley Cup Playoffs marketing campaign titled “There’s Nothing Like Playoff Hockey.” The lens will allow Snapchat users to instantly grow their own playoff beards, as well as lift the Stanley Cup. NBC Sports CMO Jenny Storms said the use of Snapchat fits well with the NHL fanbase. "This is one of the younger audiences in sports consumption, compared to the other major leagues, so Snapchat is a natural fit for who we are trying to reach and what we are doing,” she said. “While the platform does skew younger, during the Stanley Cup Playoffs a larger audience is engaged in the games and our coverage, so this is a relevant sweet spot for this set." Storms said that the network’s marketing campaign around this year’s playoff is its most robust and targeted consumer engagement plan in place, which includes this partnership with Snapchat and other shareable content plans. While this is the first NBC Sports Snapchat lens, the network has collaborated with the social media platform in the past, including around its tentpole events such as "SNF," "TNF," the Kentucky Derby and the Olympics.

SI Films has reached an agreement with MLB Network to show a newly developed documentary on the popular Mets fan group, The 7 Line Army. “Loyal ’Til The Last Out” will debut April 30 at 10:00pm ET on the network, chronicling the rise of the 5-year-old organization, which has quickly grown into one of baseball’s most notable supporter groups. The film features current Mets 3B David Wright, CF Curtis Granderson, and P Jerry Blevins, N.Y. Mayor Bill de Blasio, 7 Line Army Founder Darren Meenan and comedian Jim Breuer. “We scanned the sphere of major American sports and found very few, if any, other groups like this in existence. They are the ‘Happy Gilmore’ of Major League Baseball,” said Josh Oshinsky, SI Video Exec Producer.

K2 Promotions Managing Dir Tom Loeffler said that Gennady Golovkin's unanimous decision win against Daniel Jacobs on March 18 at MSG "generated about 170,000 buys on HBO PPV." ESPN.com's Dan Rafael wrote Golovkin, in his second fight as a PPV headliner, "saw improvement from his first foray onto PPV." His October '15 world title unification fight against David Lemieux "garnered 153,000 buys." However, Golovkin "probably did not pull in the kind of number against Jacobs," which "figures to make putting together a much anticipated pay-per-view fight with superstar Canelo Alvarez in September any easier" (ESPN.com, 4/27).

BASEBALL GUY
: Former MLBer Jim Thome said his new role as an analyst on MLB Network is "not full-time but it gives me an opportunity to have a little fun." In Chicago, Daryl Van Schouwen notes Thome will "continue in his duties" as a special assistant to White Sox Senior VP & GM Rick Hahn. Thome "isn't sure how much broadcasting is in his future." Thome "worked for MLB Network as a guest in February" and his "first official gig is Monday on 'MLB Tonight' alongside Sean Casey" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 4/27).

START IT UP: ESPN.com's Jacob Wolf noted live-streaming platform Twitch has "come to a long-term agreement to renew its exclusive broadcasting rights partnership with multigame esports organization Team Liquid." The deal "continues a partnership that was first initiated" in '11. Financial details and length of contract were not disclosed. The agreement "includes deals with 1UP Studios and Liquid Media; the former has gained popularity in the last year as a freelance video production company in esports" (ESPN.com, 4/26).