ESPN laying off 300 employees in huge pandemic-related cuts

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ESPN informed employees early Thursday morning that it would lay off 300 people across its business, while also not filling 200 currently open positions as the pandemic continues to harshly impact it and its parent company, Disney.

The message was sent from ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro in a company-wide memo that was obtained by The Post.

The layoffs will not be concentrated in any one department and, according to a source, will be spread across the network. On-air personnel will mostly be spared at the moment, according to sources, however, ESPN has been scrutinizing contracts more fastidiously in recent months, letting some expire.

For example, as previously reported, former morning talk-show host and NFL Draft host Trey Wingo will not have his contract extended as it runs out at the end of the year.

“We are parting ways with many exceptional teammates, all of whom have made important contributions to ESPN,” Pitaro said as part of a statement. “These are not easy decisions, and we will work hard to make their transitions easier.”

As is the case across Disney, ESPN is trying to shift more of its business to direct-to-consumer. It has created ESPN+. It had reported 8.5 million subscribers as of this summer. The pandemic has also created new ways to deliver programming with less people.

While Disney tries to further transform itself, it still is focused on ABC/ESPN. It is in the midst of talks with the NFL to renew its relationship with the league. It currently pays $2 billion for rights that include “Monday Night Football.”

The Post reported this week that Disney is trying hard to wrest “Sunday Night Football” from NBC. It also wants two NFL packages. It has been known for nearly two years that Disney would like to add a Super Bowl to its next deal with the NFL.

ESPN joins Fox Sports and NBC Sports with some form of layoffs during the pandemic. CBS Sports has no known staff reduction due to the economic slowdown.

The ESPN talk of layoffs has been rumored among industry insiders for months and may have been even more grim if college football had not been played.

Last month, the website Outkick first reported the potential layoffs. The Athletic said they could happen this week.

ESPN had around 6,000 employees before Thursday. In 2015 and 2017, ESPN had layoffs impacting both on and off-air personnel, adding up to around 500 lost jobs.

Here is the full memo that Pitaro sent to employees:

Dear colleagues,

As you know, we value transparency in our internal dialogue, and that means in both good and challenging times. After much consideration, I have some difficult organizational decisions to share. We will be reducing our workforce, impacting approximately 300 valued team members, in addition to 200 open positions.

Today is hard because ESPN has always been — and will always be — fortified by its fantastic people. Teamwork, dedication, spirit and grit have built this place and are what make ESPN special.

Prior to the pandemic, we had been deeply engaged in strategizing how best to position ESPN for future success amidst tremendous disruption in how fans consume sports. The pandemic’s significant impact on our business clearly accelerated those forward-looking discussions. In the short term, we enacted various steps like executive and talent salary reductions, furloughs and budget cuts, and we implemented innovative operations and production approaches, all in an effort to weather the COVID storm.

We have, however, reached an inflection point. The speed at which change is occurring requires great urgency, and we must now deliver on serving sports fans in a myriad of new ways. Placing resources in support of our direct-to-consumer business strategy, digital, and, of course, continued innovative television experiences, is more critical than ever.

However, building a successful future in a changing world means facing hard choices. Making informed decisions about how and where we need to go – and, as always, in the most efficient way possible – is by far the most challenging job of any leadership team. And, while it must be done looking through a business lens, it also must be done with great respect and genuine concern for people.

We are parting ways with some exceptional team members – some of whom have been here for a long time – and all of whom have made important contributions to ESPN. We’re very grateful for all they’ve meant to us, and I assure you we are taking steps to make their transitions easier.

I am proud of the people at ESPN. Together, we have overcome tremendous challenges and adversity over these past several months and please know that the decisions and plans executed today were not made lightly. They are, however, necessary and I am convinced that we will move forward and effectively navigate this unprecedented disruption.

Our Human Resources and Communications teams will continue to keep you posted on any updates, and you’ll be hearing more detail about our future direction in the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you have questions about anything outlined in this note, please do not hesitate to raise them with your leadership team or HR Business Partner.

With gratitude,

Jimmy

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