Lib ESPN looking at 40-60 MORE layoffs.
More bad news could be on the horizon for ESPN. Staffers at the Worldwide Leader in Sports are bracing for another possible round of layoffs late this year, multiple sources tell Sporting News.
The next round of cutbacks could come down in late November or early December, with 40-60 positions potentially being impacted, according to sources. The layoffs could hit both on-air TV/radio talent and behind-the-scenes production staffers.
"This time it won't matter if you're 'liked' or not. It's not going to be pretty," one source warned.
Another source expects the flagship "SportsCenter" franchise to lose people in front of and behind the camera. "I see
(ESPN) going down a path where they have less staff — and hire more production companies to provide programs and fill air time."
ESPN declined to comment.
ESPN is like the NFL of sports media: It's so big that competitors such as Fox Sports' FS1 would kill to have its ratings/audiences.
Through Week 7 of the 2017 season, ESPN's "Monday Night Football" was the lone NFL TV package up in ratings, according to Austin Karp of SportsBusiness Daily. In September, ESPN's "First Take" with Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim tripled the TV audience of FS1's rival "Undisputed" with Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe and Joy Taylor (461,000 vs. 150,000 average viewers). With 96.9 million digital users, ESPN had five times as many unique viewers in September as Fox Sports.
ESPN is still able to lure top talent from rivals, such as Katie Nolan of Fox and NHL blogger/editor Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo Sports. And ESPN has few rivals in storytelling (a recent example being Tom Rinaldi's touching "SportsCenter" feature about quarterback Carson Wentz of the Eagles and the 10-year old "Dutch Destroyer.")
But ESPN is struggling from the triple-whammy of a shrinking subscriber base, expensive billion-dollar TV rights for the NFL, NBA and other sports, and bloated talent costs. The network pays $1.9 billion annually for "Monday Night Football" and another $1.4 billion for the NBA. Don't forget ESPN is still paying millions of dollars in severance costs to many of the 100 anchors/reporters laid off in late April.
To the frustration of many ESPN insiders, the network also seems to keep shooting itself in the foot from a PR standpoint.
On Monday, president John Skipper cancelled the TV show "Barstool Van Talk" after a single 1 a.m. ET episode that averaged 88,000 viewers. The move came after a mini-mutiny led by Samantha Ponder, who succeeded the legendary Chris Berman as the high-profile host of "Sunday NFL Countdown" this year. In a statement, Skipper said he "erred" in believing ESPN could separate "Barstool Van Talk" from content on the Barstool site. But Barstool's David Portnoy countered ESPN knew exactly what its new partner was all about.
Meanwhile, Jemele Hill returned to co-host the 6 p.m. ET "SportsCenter" Monday after a two-week suspension for repeatedly violating the network's social media guidelines. Hill's suspension was paid, according to ESPN book author Jim Miller.
Her suspension came after Hill tweeted about a possible boycott of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' sponsors on Twitter.
She previously sparked a firestorm by calling President Donald Trump is a "white supremacist." Trump demanded Hill and ESPN apologize, while bashing the network's alleged left-wing politics, "bad programming" and "tanking" ratings.
Hill told TMZ she deserved the suspension, but she hasn't apologized.
Replying to @KimKymd46 @804StreetMedia
Did I say I regret what I said? No. Did I say I take back what I said? No. I violated a rule. I stand by what I said. So no, not the same.
Despite promising Madison Avenue at its upfront presentation that Mike Greenberg's new solo morning show would debut Jan. 1, ESPN has pushed back the start date to the spring because of construction delays at its expensive new studios at South Street Seaport in Manhattan.
The ESPN workforce in Bristol, Conn., and around the country is still recovering from the layoff of 100 colleagues in late April. Unlike the previous downsizing of 300 behind-the-scenes producers, directors and staffers in October 2015, this year's layoffs took out high-salaried TV talent and reporters, many with multi-year contracts. Many are still looking for their next gig.
ESPN is not the only media company downsizing in a challenging, changing economy. Media organizations ranging from Fox to Sports Illustrated have laid off staffers.
ESPN overpaid for NFL and NBA sports rights at the same time it was losing 12 million subscribers due to cord-cutting. Those millions in lost subscriber revenue, while still paying the fixed cost of TV rights deals, are driving the continuing layoffs, according to sources.
"I know it's a tough job but it was somebody's job to see the future — and they didn't," a source said. "Now viewers are going one way, costs are going the other, and nobody did the math."