Disney layoffs will include cuts to ESPN

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A planned layoff of 4,000 Disney employees will include those who work for cable sports channel ESPN, one of the three primary business segments of the Walt Disney Company.

On his podcast “K[no]w Mercy,” Stephen A. Smith, host and headliner of ESPN daily talk show “First Take,” noted Disney’s plans. Mr. Smith implied that even he, despite his presence on First Take, other talk shows on the network, and ESPN basketball coverage, might possibly be cut.

“Disney itself announced that over 7,000 employees are going to be let go. ESPN is under the Disney umbrella. They’re going to have cuts coming. Hell, for all I know, I might be one of them. Now, I doubt that. But it’s possible. No one knows,” Smith said, according to Front Office Sports.

Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed the plan to cut 7,000 jobs company-wide on a Feb. 8 earnings call. Of those, 4,000 are current positions, and 3,000 are unfilled open positions.

Other reports suggest that Smith need not worry; he, the Monday Night Football tandem of Troy Aikman and Joe Buck, and late-night “Sportscenter” host Scott Van Pelt are considered untouchable, according to the New York Post.

Instead, the slice of ESPN employees that make close to or more than seven figures without “moving the needle” are the ones most likely to be axed. The purge is expected by the end of April or early May.

Other contracts have become subject to belt-tightening; the network is at a contract impasse with college football talent Chris Fowler, according to the New York Post.

As ESPN’s subscriptions have dropped from 100 million households in 2011 to less than 75 million today, there have been previous rounds of layoffs at the Bristol, Connecticut, “Worldwide Leader” of sports coverage.

In 2015, 300 were let go; in 2017, 100 people, including anchors like Ron Jaworski and Trent Dilfer among others, were let go. In 2021, given the COVID-19 pandemic, ESPN laid off a further 300 existing positions and did not fill 200 other open positions.

ESPN has, however, also become more important within Disney; the February restructuring by returning CEO Bob Iger saw ESPN spun off as one of the three major divisions within the company.

As part of its continuing drawdown, ESPN has let multiple television rights contracts lapse. The Big 10 will move to CBS, NBC, and Fox starting on July 1. ESPN’s rights to MLS and Sunday Ticket have also lapsed, with the former moving to Apple TV and the latter moving to YouTube TV.

Ratings, however, are up. An unnamed source told The Street that “ESPN ratings were up 8% in 2022 from the previous year and 14% in prime time,” adding that the network is also in the top three brands in follows and engagement on TikTok.

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