ESPN layoffs are coming — and nearly everyone is vulnerable


ESPN’s latest round of layoffs will have “no sacred cows,” meaning everybody from top on-air people to big-time executives are being scrutinized with the cuts expected to be finalized in the next four-to-six weeks, The Post has learned.

The moves are a part of layoffs that Disney’s CEO Bob Iger announced were coming across all of the company’s units. Last month, Iger said that 7,000 jobs would be eliminated across the board.

At the direction of ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro, heads of departments have been told to scrutinize their divisions to make them as efficient as possible. At this time, there is no target number for how many millions that ESPN must save or how many employees will be let go, according to sources.

ESPN declined comment.

In recent years, ESPN has spent heavily on top commentators, like Troy Aikman ($18 million per year), Joe Buck ($15 million per year) and Stephen A. Smith ($12 million per year) and they are still in add mode as they are in on the Pat McAfee sweepstakes, according to sources.

Last week, The Post reported McAfee is exploring moving to a network that could have him step away from FanDuel in the midst of a four-year, $120 million contract. But any McAfee-ESPN deal would have to make financial sense for the network. ESPN is a possibility for McAfee, but probably not the favorite right now.

Meanwhile, the ESPN belt-tightening is already being felt in negotiations with college football national championship game-caller Chris Fowler. Fowler, who reportedly makes around $3 million per year, and ESPN have been far apart in negotiations, according to sources.

ESPN is pursuing Pat McAfee despite a major round of layoffs coming.
Getty Images

ESPN wants to retain Fowler, maybe even with a slight raise, as he is its lead college football and Grand Slam tennis voice, but he is not going to receive a large increase to put him anywhere near Buck money.

The most vulnerable on-air folks, according to sources, are the ones that make near or more than seven figures and are not considered needle movers. Smith, late-night SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt and the “Monday Night Football” booth are considered the type of “talent” that are untouchable.

Despite cord cutting in which subscribers are dropping cable, ESPN is still a money cow for Disney, which it is expected to demonstrate when it releases its separate earnings report in November. Previously, ESPN’s numbers were rolled into Disney’s and not broken out, but under the new structure Iger recently unveiled, ESPN will show its data to the public.

ESPN's belt-tightening is being felt in negotiations with Chris Fowler.
ESPN’s belt-tightening is being felt in negotiations with Chris Fowler.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

ESPN is currently in around 74 million homes, with each household paying in the $10 per month range, which means it still rakes in three-quarters of a billion dollars per month before it sells one advertisement. ESPN+, a relatively new direct-to-consumer add-on service, has 24.9 million subscribers. It charges $9.99 per month, but can be bundled with Hulu and Disney+ for a cheaper price.

Iger recently said that it is “inevitable” that the entirety of ESPN will go direct-to-consumer. There is no exact date set, according to sources, but it will happen in the next few years, if not sooner. ESPN would still be offered on cable and satellite, but its full programming would be available to cord cutters. Year to year, ESPN recently reported that its ratings were up 8 percent overall and 14 percent in primetime.

Even though ESPN has maintained its place atop sports media and continues to shoot off – not as much as it once did – profits, layoffs have become a regular part of the Bristol experience.

In 2015, ESPN – which had been immune to cuts that had become a part of media for decades – was hit by 300 layoffs to behind-the-scenes personnel. In 2017, another 250 people were laid off, including stars like Ron Jaworski, Marc Stein and Trent Dilfer.

At the direction of ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro, heads of departments have been told to scrutinize their divisions to make them as efficient as possible
At the direction of ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro, heads of departments have been told to scrutinize their divisions to make them as efficient as possible
Getty Images

Some of the people had multi-year contracts and were paid out, but were let go for bookkeeping reasons. Employees with contracts are being scrutinized this time around, as well, according to sources.

In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, ESPN let go 300 employees and chose not to fill 200 positions.

Throughout this time, ESPN has spent big on sports rights, most notably in 2021 for the NFL, which it agreed to pay the league nearly $2.7 billion per season. Its agreement includes two Super Bowls and goes through the 2033 season. It also includes flex scheduling on “Monday Night Football,” beginning this year. It followed that up by spending $33 million a year for Buck and Aikman.

Now, though, there is a directive from the top of Disney to cut. It is expected to happen by the end of April or early May.

Carton and Roberts beat Kay again

ESPN New York’s Michael Kay just got a huge, new seven-figure contract, but his show continues to be trounced by WFAN’s “Carton & Roberts.” In the second month of the three-period winter book, Craig Carton and Evan Roberts were third (7.2 share) to “The Michael Kay Show’s” 17th (2.1) share among 25-54 year-old males, according to Nielsen Audio. In the mornings, WFAN’s “Boomer & Gio” was No. 1 in the market (13.1 share), while ESPN’s “DiPietro & Rothenberg” was tied for 11th (3.3). In middays, FAN’s “Tiki & Tierney” was fourth (5.4), while ESPN’s combination of hosts were tied for 14th (2.2).