Two weeks ago, Michael McCarthy of the Sporting News reported ESPN would soon be facing a second round of layoffs. The original expectation was for around 40 employees to be let go by the network in the next few weeks, but according to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated that number will actually be over 100.
In recent months ESPN has continued hiring new talent and remains a dominant force in terms of ratings, crushing Fox Sports 1 in head to head programming. For the month of September “Pardon The Interruption” drew an average audience around 700,000 compared to less than 100,000 for Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock’s “Speak For Yourself.”In the wake of the NFL having to answer questions regarding their ratings decline on a weekly basis, ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” is the only TV package for the league experiencing an increase in ratings this season.
Even with their dominance over rival networks, the World Wide Leader is still seeing an overall ratings decrease and significant subscriber loss due to cord cutting. In 2011, the network had over 100 million subscribers, currently that number is estimated at less than 88 million, according to Nielsen.
ESPN negotiated broadcasting rights deals with the NBA and NFL based on a larger number of subscribers than they currently have, which leads them to their recent and upcoming layoffs. With $1.9 billion spent annually to host “Monday Night Football” and $1.4 billion per year for their NBA contract, the network needs to make up for lost viewership.
In 2015 ESPN conducted layoffs affecting over 300 employees, most of which were behind the scenes workers. At the time, Disney ordered ESPN to cut $100 million from their 2016 budget and an additional $250 million in 2017. 2017 year will see over 200 employees let go, this time many of them in-front of the camera personnel, generating more publicity.
During the past year ESPN has hired new on-air personalities such as Adrian Wojnarowski, Katie Nolan, Paul Pierce, John Thompson III, Chip Kelly and others. Unfortunately for much of the existing staff, they’re left wondering how much longer they might work for the network. According to SI, multiple employees have described the Bristol atmosphere as “tense,” with one long time anchor characterizing the feeling for many as “queasy.”