Former ABC27 sports reporter among those affected by ESPN staff cuts
In a message sent Wednesday to ESPN employees, network president John Skipper announced the company was beginning its next round of layoffs, a long-anticipated move that is expected to thin the ranks of ESPN’s on-air and online talent.
“A necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions,” Skipper wrote. “Our content strategy – primarily illustrated in recent months by melding distinct, personality-driven SportsCenter TV editions and digital-only efforts with our biggest sub-brand – still needs to go further, faster . . . and as always, must be efficient and nimble. Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent – anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play – necessary to meet those demands. We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week. A limited number of other positions will also be affected and a handful of new jobs will be posted to fill various needs.”
Former Harrisburg newsman Karl Ravech works the 2014 Little League World Series for ESPN Tuesday night on Aug. 19, 2014.Mark Pynes | firstname.lastname@example.org
The job cuts, an ESPN decision as it re-positions itself for the future and not a mandate from parent company Disney, will affect around 100 out of the 1,000 so-called “front-facing” employees at ESPN, and the people with contracts will see those deals honored in full. Jim Miller, who co-wrote a book on ESPN’s history, said Wednesday that “around 50 names you will recognize; another 50 you may not” will be losing their jobs. Those who are part of the network’s daily programming lineup are more likely to be retained, a reflection of Skipper’s line about “versatility and value” in his letter to employees. Miller tweeted:
“Hearing now from several @espn employees who, despite advanced word, are ‘in shock’ and ‘frozen.’ This is an awful day for all in Bristol.”
The Hollywood Reporter says longtime “Baseball Tonight” host and MLB play-by-play announcer Karl Ravech, ESPN Radio’s Ryen Russillo and network veteran Hannah Storm will see their roles “significantly reduced.” According to previous reports, a number of ESPN personalities had approached the network about taking voluntary pay cuts or reworking their contracts in order to keep their jobs.
Prior to working at ESPN, Ravech was a weekend sports anchor/reporter for the central Pennsylvania station WHTM-TV ABC27.
Longtime NFL reporter Ed Werder was among the first to announce he had been laid off, on the eve of the NFL draft, no less (he had been assigned to cover the New Orleans Saints at the league’s annual selection meeting). If there was proof Wednesday that no one was safe, this was it. Werder was among the network’s most respected NFL voices. Werder tweeted:
“After 17 years reporting on #NFL, I’ve been informed that I’m being laid off by ESPN effective immediately. I have no plans to retire
“While surprised and disappointed, I was fortunate to have worked @espn with so many devoted, talented journalists. I will always be grateful”
Brett McMurphy, who broke a lot of college football news, is out. He tweeted:
“After 5 great years, I’ve been laid off by ESPN. It was a tremendous opportunity & I enjoyed working w/a lot of really, really good people”
Former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden has been let go. He tweeted:
“I feel blessed & privileged to have worked @ESPN and most importantly work w/ so many great people.Thank you. I look forward to what’s next”
Longtime “SportsCenter” host John Buccigross, who is more or less the face of the network’s hockey presence, is reportedly in limbo as his contract is set to expire. Cuts in NHL coverage include columnists Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside and writer Joe McDonald.
“Well folks, as you can tell by my new Twitter handle, I was also among the cuts today at ESPN.”
“After 13 years of sticks and pucks can share that as of today my tenure at ESPN is at a close. I look forward to the next adventure.”
“After nearly eight years of covering the NHL, MLB and the NFL at ESPN, it’s time for the next chapter in my career.”
Longtime college basketball writer Dana O’Neil also was let go. She tweeted:
“Add me to the list. Just got the ‘call.’ I’ve been informed my contract will not be renewed at ESPN.”
Others who announced their departures include Austin Ward and Jesse Temple, who covered the Big Ten, ESPNU host Brendan Fitzgerald, ESPN Insider soccer writer Mike L. Goodman and baseball writer Mark Saxon. Paul Kuharsky, who covered the Tennessee Titans for ESPN.com, also announced he had been laid off earlier in the week.
The layoffs are an attempt by ESPN to evolve in the wake of a two-headed challenge: a declining subscriber base and skyrocketing rights fees. Over the past five years, the network has lost somewhere around 12 million subscribers as the viewing public looks for cheaper avenues for home entertainment. At the same time, the money ESPN has paid to the professional sports leagues to acquire their live events steadily climbed. Last year, the network’s new nine-year agreement with the NBA to televise pro basketball games took effect. The reported cost to ESPN: somewhere around $1.5 billion per year, a massive increase over the previous deal. That’s on top of deals the network already had with the NFL ($1.9 billion annually), various NCAA conferences and the College Football Playoff (well over $1 billion), and Major League Baseball ($700 million). Some of those deals will be up for renewal in the not-so-distant future.
It’s the second round of layoffs at ESPN in less than two years. In October 2015, ESPN laid off around 300 people who worked behind the scenes. The network employs around 8,000 people in total.