Cord cutting and a pandemic are not a great mix for sports networks. ESPN on Thursday announced a massive reduction of 300 staff and 200 unfilled positions, a process that eliminates roughly 10% of its U.S. workforce.
The announcement from network president Jimmy Pitaro was met with criticism across the industry, including Bob Ley, a longtime iconic face of ESPN who retired in 2019.
“Trying to remain objective and unemotional as I learn of the @espn team members laid off today,” tweeted Ley, who spent 40 years with the company. “Not possible. Not as I see countless decades of journalistic experience, and expertise jettisoned. Just when we need it most. Enjoy the DIS stock price and your NFL football.”
The “DIS” reference is to parent company Disney, which is said to be positioning ESPN to acquire high-stakes broadcasting rights in the months to come.
ESPN is far from Disney’s only trouble spot, with Disneyland and Disney World adversely affected by COVID-19. After a $1.96 billion loss for the third fiscal quarter, the parks’ unit in September laid off 28,000 employees.
During that third quarter, with most movie theaters shut down around the globe, Disney’s studio entertainment revenue plummeted 55% to $1.74 billion. Those corporate issues now include ESPN.
“Prior to the pandemic, we had been deeply engaged in strategizing how best to position ESPN,” Pitaro wrote in his memo. “The pandemic’s significant impact on our business clearly accelerated those forward-looking discussions.”
Among the prominent people laid off was college football writer Ivan Maisel, who worked at ESPN for almost 20 years and reported his release via Twitter.
According to ESPN, the company employs about 4,000 at its headquarters in Bristol, Conn., and another 2,000 staffers around the world.