ESPN plans to lay off 300 employees, leave 200 more positions unfilled

“It’s just brutal,’’ said one ESPN source.

A production truck for ESPN's "Monday Night Football." –AP Photo/Mark Tenally

ESPN employees were notified Thursday morning that the network plans to lay off 300 people and leave another 200 open positions unfilled as the network and parent company Disney navigate the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The network’s remote and studio production teams are expected to be heavily affected by the layoffs, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, though the reductions will come from various elements of the EPSN operation.

ESPN is an NBA, MLB, and NFL rights holder. The network went without live professional games in the most prominent sports from mid March until late July during the pandemic.

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“It’s just brutal,’’ said one ESPN source who shared an internal memo from EPSN president Jimmy Pittaro announcing the layoffs Thursday morning. “Live sports are the most important thing we do, revenue-wise and viewership-wise. The people losing their jobs are the lifeblood of that.”

The layoffs have been rumored for months. The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch reported Wednesday that they would come this week. Parent company Disney has taken a financial hit to its various businesses during the pandemic, most prominently its theme parks. Disney laid off 28,000 employees in September.

“For some time, ESPN has been engaged in planning for its future amidst tremendous disruption in how fans consume sports,’’ said Pittaro in a press release sent to reporters. “The pandemic’s effect on ESPN clearly accelerated our thinking on all fronts. Today, as a result of these circumstances, we informed our employees that we have made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce to create a more agile, efficient organization.

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

ESPN, which currently has approximately 5,000 employees, has undergone several staff reductions in recent years, including two rounds of layoffs in 2017. Several well-known ESPN personalities were among the 200 to lose their jobs in ’17.

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Little to no-air talent is expected to be let go during this round of layoffs, though openings, such as the one created by the departure of longtime host Trey Wingo, who has been off the air since September while his contract runs out, will not be filled.

ESPN, which had its highest-paid talent take pay cuts in April, plans to further emphasize its streaming service ESPN-plus as part of its strategy going forward, according to Pitaro’s memo.

“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,” said Pitaro in the staff memo. “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.”

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