ESPN: can The Worldwide Leader in Sports manage its own decline?

The sports broadcaster has been buffeted by layoffs, declining revenue and a stormy political climate. Will it adapt to a changed media landscape?

In the summer of 1998, ESPN did what successful American sports entities tend to do: it opened a restaurant. Located in Baltimore, the ESPN Zone was less a place to grab a bite than a 35,000-square-foot monument to the broadcast company’s ascendancy – home to a baseball batting cage, a mural of local athletic heroes signing the Declaration of Independence, and a fully functional replica of the set for SportsCenter, its flagship nightly newscast.

Back then, none of this seemed unusual. To the contrary, ESPN was so popular and beloved that restaurant industry observers expected a smashing success, with one analyst gushing to the Washington Post that ESPN’s parent company, Disney, was “so good. They know their limitations – even the precise moment when to pull a video off the shelf. They’re not going to go into a market until the customers are going to drool.”

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