April 26, 2017

ESPN on Wednesday went through with a long-awaited round of layoffs that will trim about 100 commentators from the sports network’s payroll as cord-cutters and digital media upstarts continue to disrupt the broadcaster’s business model.

Among those laid off are on-camera personalities that have become familiar faces on the network’s coverage of hockey, football and baseball and writers for ESPN’s digital platforms.

ESPN President John Skipper announced the layoffs in a memo posted publicly on the network’s website Wednesday, describing the cuts as central to a reorganization that will “better support our future goals.”

We carefully considered and deliberated alternatives before making each decision. The people who will be leaving us have been part of ESPN’s success, and they have our respect and appreciation for their contributions. We will be as supportive as we can during this transition, including providing a minimum of 60-days notice, a severance package reflective of their years of service, and outplacement benefits to help them find future employment.

The layoffs will total about 100 across the network, a source familiar with the matter told Poynter.

Throughout the morning, ESPN journalists began announcing on Twitter that they’d been given layoff notices:

Central to today’s staff cuts are the changing economics of the sports media industry, as Skipper alluded to in his memo. As younger viewers shift away from cable TV and turn toward digital streaming of sports, ESPN’s multi-billion dollar broadcast deals with major sports leagues have become both a blessing and a curse. Millions of subscribers have fled the network in recent years in favor of insurgent digital competitors.

ESPN has sought to burnish its digital bona fides, however. Disney, ESPN’s parent company inked a $1 billion deal to buy a 33 percent stake in digital streaming company BamTech last year and announced plans to launch an ESPN streaming service.

In a post on ESPN’s website, the company’s leaders pointed to several initiatives that illustrate how the company’s “content is evolving,” citing changes to SportsCenter, the growth of the ESPN app and ESPN’s multi-screen coverage of marquee events as digital-first bright spots.

This isn’t the first big cut to hit ESPN in recent years. In October 2015, ESPN laid off roughly 300 people.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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