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ESPN taking cost-saving efforts into own hands with latest on-air talent cuts

Around 20 media personalities laid off as Disney-owned network attempts to meet financial targets.

3 July 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • Jeff Van Gundy, Max Kellerman and Jalen Rose among those leaving ESPN
  • Further departures expected
  • Disney has eliminated 7,000 jobs as part of US$5.5bn cost-saving operation

ESPN is laying off a chunk of its on-air talent as the Disney-owned sports network continues to cut costs.

According to reports in the US, about 20 people will no longer appear on ESPN. Among those in the reported cuts include National Basketball Association (NBA) analyst Jeff Van Gundy (pictured above), host Max Kellerman, reporter and anchor Suzy Kolber, and National Football League (NFL) analyst Steve Young.

Additional departures reportedly include baseball reporter Joon Lee, as well as analysts Jalen Rose, Keyshawn Johnson and LaPhonso Ellis, who worked across the NBA, NFL and college basketball respectively. Boxing analyst Andre Ward also confirmed he would no longer be working with ESPN.

‘Given the current environment, ESPN has determined it necessary to identify some additional cost savings in the area of public-facing commentator salaries, and that process has begun,’ ESPN said in a statement.

‘This exercise will include a small group of job cuts in the short-term and an ongoing focus on managing costs when we negotiate individual contract renewals in the months ahead.

‘This is an extremely challenging process, involving individuals who have had tremendous impact on our company. These difficult decisions, based more on overall efficiency than merit, will help us meet our financial targets and ensure future growth.’

The ESPN cuts follow Disney’s own round of redundancies, which amounted to 7,000 employees. Among the departures in April was Russell Wolff, the head of ESPN+, as Disney seeks to make US$5.5 billion in savings, drive profitability for the company’s streaming business and boost its share price.

SportsPro says…

Further ESPN layoffs had been expected this summer and the latest wave are separate from Disney’s broader job cull after the media titan handed ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro his own balance sheet responsibilities.

More departures are also looming with ESPN not planning to renew contracts of off-air staff when they expire in the coming month, which could amount to another 20 or so leaving, according to CNBC.

Considering some of the big names who will no longer be appearing on the ESPN airwaves, it gives you an idea of the lengths the network is prepared to go to make savings. Getting on-air talent with large salaries off the payroll will help balance the books, while saving many behind the scenes roles, but risks alienating viewers who enjoyed watching Van Gundy and others.

ESPN is in a period of transition. Data shows its pay-TV linear channel lost 914,000 customers in the first quarter of 2023, while Pitaro believes the network will inevitably shift to a full direct-to-consumer (DTC) model, albeit when it makes financial sense.

Streaming might be the future but, at present, ESPN and Disney need to get their balance sheets in order and free up cash, particularly as subscriber growth for the latter’s wider over-the-top (OTT) business wanes.

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