Disney’s ESPN on Friday is informing about 20 of its on-air personalities that they will no longer appear on any of the network’s platforms.
Cuts include former National Basketball Association head coach and current game analyst Jeff Van Gundy and ex-NBA player and studio analyst Jalen Rose, according to a person familiar with the matter.
“Given the current environment, ESPN has determined it necessary to identify some additional cost savings in the area of public-facing commentator salaries, and that process has begun,” ESPN said in a statement. “This exercise will include a small group of job cuts in the short-term and an ongoing focus on managing costs when we negotiate individual contract renewals in the months ahead.”
“This is an extremely challenging process, involving individuals who have had tremendous impact on our company,” the network said. “These difficult decisions, based more on overall efficiency than merit, will help us meet our financial targets and ensure future growth.”
The cuts are part of ESPN’s efforts to meet its financial targets for 2023 and beyond. Targeting on-air employees with large salaries will allow ESPN to keep more staffers throughout the organization.
Disney, which owns the majority of ESPN, recently concluded its own rounds of layoffs amounting to 7,000 employees. The media giant is shedding costs as streaming growth wanes to boost free cash flow. Disney may need the cash if it chooses to acquire Comcast’s minority stake in Hulu — a deal with an option trigger at the start of 2024.
More departures to come
ESPN’s cuts are separate from that initiative and related to its own set of metrics and priorities. Disney reorganized the company earlier this year, giving ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro his own balance sheet responsibilities.
ESPN also plans not to renew the contracts of more on-air staffers as their contracts expire in the coming months, said the person, who asked not to be named because the details are private. That could amount to another 20 or so departures, a second person said.
Laid-off employees will have the option to work elsewhere but will have to renegotiate their outstanding contracts with ESPN, one of the people said. If employees find jobs with a competitor, ESPN may offer a lower severance for the remainder of the contract than to staffers who find work in other fields, said the person.
Van Gundy has been with ESPN for 16 years and has gained wide acclaim for his game commentary and sense of humor. He’s been part of a three-man broadcasting team for NBA games along with play-by-play announcer Mike Breen and co-analyst, former NBA player and coach Mark Jackson.
ESPN announced last month it hired former NFL punter Pat McAfee, host of “The Pat McAfee Show.” The New York Post reported ESPN is paying McAfee around $85 million over five years. Still, ESPN’s McAfee comes with a ready-made show, which the network believes will be profitable from day one.
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