ESPN lays off about 150 behind-the-scenes employees

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ESPN announced Wednesday that it is laying off approximately 150 employees, the network’s third round of job cuts over the past two-plus years.

Faced with a declining subscriber base and increasing sports-rights costs, ESPN laid off around 300 employees – many of them working behind the scenes – in October 2015. Then, in April, the network cut roughly 100 jobs, with the reductions coming from ESPN’s stable of on-air talent and online journalists. The round of layoffs announced Wednesday will affect employees “in studio production, digital content, and technology and they generally reflect decisions to do less in certain instances and re-direct resources,” ESPN President John Skipper announced in a memo to network employees.

“We appreciate their contributions, and will assist them as much as possible in this difficult moment with severance, a 2017 bonus, the continuation of health benefits and outplacement services. They will also appreciate your support,” Skipper wrote.

The 150 layoffs is a larger number than expected by most observers, but it still reflects a small fraction of the network’s reported 8,000 employees. On-camera talent was spared from this recent round of cuts, but Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch reports that the network will continue to reduce costs by not re-signing “SportsCenter” anchors whose contracts are coming up for renewal.

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According to the most recent estimates, ESPN has just less than 87 million cable subscribers, down more than 13 million from its peak of 100.13 million households in 2011. When you combine those losses – the company gets more than $9 per month from each cable subscriber who has ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network in their lineups – with the $3.3 billion the network must pay each year for its NFL and NBA packages alone, it paints a troubling economic picture for ESPN and parent company Disney.

Nevertheless, ESPN continues to spend money in an effort to remake itself. In August, the network announced plans for a new streaming service that promises an additional revenue stream when it debuts early next year. Plus, it hired NBA news-breaker Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo and brought in on-air personality Katie Nolan after her Fox Sports career petered out, mostly for use on the digital side. ESPN also continued its plans for a new morning show built around Mike Greenberg and is in the process of building a new studio at New York’s South Street Seaport. But the start date for Greenberg’s show has been pushed back to the spring because of construction delays.

Employees who remain will be expected to attend a two-hour presentation at the Bristol headquarters on Dec. 13. Among the items on the agenda, according to Sports Illustrated’s Deitsch, are the company’s social media policy and guidelines. Attendance is mandatory and employees who cannot attend in person are required to submit an excuse to their supervisor.

The network is spelling out its policies in the wake of the suspension of “SportsCenter” anchor Jemele Hill for tweets about President Donald Trump in October.

ESPN broadcasts from Nissan Stadium before an NFL football game between the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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