November 29, 2017

ESPN begins layoffs; cuts studio production, digital content staff

PHOTO | HBJ File
PHOTO | HBJ File
ESPN's headquarters in Bristol

Bristol sports entertainment giant ESPN today began its planned layoffs of 150 workers.

Most of the affected jobs are in studio production, digital content and technology, ESPN President John Skipper told staff on Wednesday.

"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," Skipper said in a memo posted online by the network.

The cuts represent about 2 percent of ESPN's workforce.

Rich Hanley, associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University, said the expected layoffs reinforce the idea that the network has already peaked "and is seeking more so to manage the decline in overall cable subscriptions than it is to promote growth at this point."

Mike Soltys, ESPN's vice president of corporate communications, countered that view.

"The notion we're not growing is a little ill informed," he said.

He cited the expected addition of 70 jobs at the ACC network that will be based in Bristol and "Get Up," a new morning show debuting in April. He also cited the introduction of ESPN Plus, a direct-to-consumer product that will provide more sports coverage this spring through BAMTech, a company ESPN's parent Disney recently acquired.

Hanley also noted that the concentration of layoffs in digital content and technology jobs "does come as a surprise because it is in those areas that a stable platform environment seems most promising."

This is only the latest round of layoffs for the sports broadcaster. The network is trying to shift its focus to digital programming as growing numbers of viewers unsubscribe from cable. But ESPN is also locked into costly long-term TV deals with sports leagues.

In March, ESPN laid off several TV, radio and online personalities. In all, 100 on-air personalities and writers were cut.

This story includes a CNNMoney report.

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