ESPN Expects to Lay Off More Talent in Cost-Cutting Move

ESPN
AP

ESPN expects to lay off some portion of the approximately 1,000 employees who deliver news, podcasts and TV reports for the Walt Disney-owned sports-media juggernaut.

Between now and June, ESPN executives will be looking at the ranks of public-facing staffers – on-air TV correspondents, podcast and radio hosts, and news reporters – and could in some cases opt not to renew lapsing contracts or even buy out existing employment agreements, according to a person familiar with the situation. The scrutiny of talent comes as ESPN faces new challenges in managing costs as subscribers decline and the costs of securing rights to air live sports events continue to rise over time.

“We have long been about serving fans and innovating to create the best content for them.  Today’s fans consume content in many different ways and we are in a continuous process of adapting to change and improving what we do,” ESPN said in a statement. “Inevitably, that has consequences for how we utilize our talent.  We are confident that ESPN will continue to have a roster of talent that is unequaled in sports.”

A number of staffers that might be cut in such a move was not immediately available.

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The disclosure suggests ESPN has yet to right-size itself in a media economy in which more consumers have the option to pick and choose the outlets for which they pay. The rise of so-called “skinny bundles” offered by companies like Dish mean consumers need not always choose to have ESPN on the video menu. ESPN is one of the most expensive networks for cable companies to carry, and commands one of the highest programming fees per subscriber. Live sports have for years been seen as the one TV format that thwarts newer viewing behaviors like time-shifting and binge-watching, but lower-than-expected ratings for both NBCUniversal’s 2015 broadcast of the Summer Olympics from Rio and the most recent NFL season have caused many to re-examine that theory.The Disney sports unit has been in similar straits in the recent past. In 2015, the company parted ways with Keith Olbermann after determining ratings performance for his ESPN2 program were not of the level executives desired, and cut ties with Bill Simmons in a decision that was characterized at the time by ESPN as being about business needs. Behind the scenes, other veterans also departed, including Sean Bratches and David Preshlack, two executives who helped ESPN wring favorable terms top dollar from its cable and video distributors.

Executives could look more favorably on staffers who work across media. ESPN’s model currently allows for people to take part in a variety of media forums, according to the person familiar with the situation, and the company certainly gets more out of staffers who might write, opine and report for a variety of ESPN outlets.

ESPN’s focus on talent cuts comes as rival Fox Sports 1 has made some inroads with a bevy of studio shows featuring outspoken hosts and commentators. ESPN in turn has added more personality to its various editions of “Sports Center,” tweaking each broadcast for the time of day in which it appears. Scott Van Pelt hosts a late-night edition of the venerable program, and ESPN just placed Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, formerly of ESPN2 program “His & Hers,” in the show’s 6 p.m. slot.

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  1. Jeff Z says:

    ESPN used to be obsessed with sports, like MTV was with music. The political correctness agenda is what killed them.

  2. Myka says:

    Who cares…Fox looks like ESPN now & the shows are better

  3. Randy says:

    Please dont cut LeBatard w/ Stu Gotz!

  4. Chris says:

    More victims of the YouTube generation.

  5. Momus15 says:

    Only person left there whom I think is worth anything is Tim Kurkjian. The rest are all gasbags.

  6. The word “talent” is obviously used very loosely here!

  7. Dunstan says:

    So audiences are growing tired of “guys in ties” mentally masturbating about sports?

    • Liza says:

      I’d rather see guys in ties than shows where the announcers tell what they think are funny personal stories instead of giving the news, or talk about movies and politics more than they do sports. (If I want movies and politics, I’ll go to movies and politics sites.) Also, tired of folks dressing and acting like they’re headed out to party.

      Very fond of SVP, who strikes the right tone and mix, also M&M (although hate the new set and the “let’s play Costa” orange chairs. One Costa is one too many, and enough with Caliendo). Ryan Clark is another standout, as are Schlereth, Booger McFarland (pls use your Christian name, I know B is what your mom called you, but . . .) and Bilas is a hoot during basketball season, and of course Kurkjian and John Clayton.

    • CoreValue says:

      No, the problem is ESPN went completely liberal and gay, and the viewership dropped by the millions. Real, real smart management there. (sarcasm)

      • Michael Sbarccia says:

        100% agreed…..not to mention females who know next to nothing about sports, being cast as the lead in most shows because of gender swapping for no reason. Sooner or later they had to do this….seriously, Disney will continue to gut them.

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