We are all guilty for the ESPN layoffs.

I firmly believe the happiest people on earth work at Starbucks. I mean, there´s no other worker able to keep smiling at you after they are forced to ask: “What can I get you?”, and you take five minutes to pretend you are reading the most complex menu in the industry with names such as “Venti-S’mores-Frapuccino-ExtraIce-NoCream-ExtraPump”, just to finally decide to go with a “Tall Americano” (by the way, why the heck is the coffee tall?).

Evidently, Starbucks has created one of the best customer service & engagement strategies in history. But, has the company prepared their employees to answer the most fundamental question about their business: “Is drinking coffee good for people´s health?”.

If you ask, maybe you could find an exceptional employee, one of those “best of the month” type of people, that could probably answer you by stating one of the many benefits of drinking coffee. (If he is not, he would just ask for your name again while holding a marker and a perfect smile). Reality is, the same employee could also tell you that drinking coffee is one of the worst things you can do. (Special Note: both links come from the same site)

If you “research”, you could easily make an argument in favor and against of almost anything. Coffee might be irrelevant to you, but how about more important issues like respect for all religions.

We have created a world of free information, which means that, as with any other product that is free, its quality does not improve, only its supply gets bigger (have you ever liked free coffee?). According to The Economist, the amount of data being stored doubles every 18 months! As Schumpeter article puts it:

Information overload is one of the biggest irritations in modern life. There are e-mails to answer, virtual friends to pester, YouTube videos to watch and, back in the physical world, meetings to attend, papers to shuffle and spouses to appease”.

So, where are we going? What are the effects of having unlimited data available to us? The sports media industry, via its giant, ESPN, just showed us.

There are several theories on what caused ESPN to fire around 100 employees this past week. Most of them are valid propositions like their astronomical rights fees they paid to the major sport leagues ($15.2B extension with the NFL, $7.3B for college football playoffs, and $12B with the NBA), or the fact that they have been losing 10,000 customers a day in subscriptions which represents around $100 M in lost revenues. Some others, like the idea that politics is the main driver behind the issue, are more debatable. Nevertheless, looks like we are forgetting the fact that we, as sport consumers, have decided that we no longer care about the quality of information.

Most people that got cut by ESPN were reporters. I am not talking about interns, first year type of reporters. I am talking about high end experienced experts in the industry. Someone like Ed Werder, who had been with the network since 1998, and that provides real and deep research in every single piece he creates, got laid off. This can only mean one thing, WE DO NOT CARE ABOUT INSIGHTFUL INFORMATION ANYMORE. WE DO NOT READ IT. WE DO NOT APPRECIATTE IT.

Twitter has “taught” us that we can form an opinion about everything.  And sadly, we can communicate it to the world in 140 characters. We consume cheap gossip, polemic debates , intense drama, and personal opinions. We treat them as proven truth. We have been taught that a Facebook post provides us enough information to criticize and argue.

As said it by Mitch Albom on his column about the reasons ESPN decided to end its show: “The Sports Reporters”:

“It was not a scream-fest. It was not a soapbox for the absurd. It was not a place where the weirdest or wildest was encouraged. It was not designed to capitalize on the worst thing you ever said”

The sports industry tends to evolve and react faster than any other industry. Due to its strong use of technology and its competitive nature, sports sometimes show us what lies ahead of us. Thanks to sports, we were able to stop being stupid and break racial barriers. Thanks to sports, virtual reality is starting to become useful.

Unfortunately, once again, sports might be showing us our future.

If we keep ignoring the value of in-depth information, what could the effect be in other industries? Is Bloomberg and Reuters going to start producing “scream-fests” about financial issues? Will CNN destine 90% of their air time to debates and opinions? What could happen to some other parts of our life? How will my kids learn the difference between right and wrong if there are always two sides for any story?

It is very disappointing to see so many amazing people lose their jobs. Unfortunately, it is even more depressing to realize that this type of layoff is the result of us buying things just because they “smile” at us, and not because we really value them.

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