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The ESPN layoff is coming — and everyone is at risk

Andrew Marchand

Sports and entertainment

March 20, 2023 | 2:36 p.m

ESPN’s latest round of layoffs is “no sacred cows,” meaning everyone from on-air senior staff to senior executives is under scrutiny with cuts expected to be finalized in the next four to six weeks, The Post has learned.

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

Under the guidance of ESPN President Jimmy Pittaro, the division heads were told to audit their divisions to make them as efficient as possible. Right now, there’s no target number for how many millions ESPN has to save or how many employees it will let go, according to the sources.

ESPN declined to comment.

In recent years, ESPN has spent heavily on top commentators, such as Troy Aikman ($18 million per year), Joe Buck ($15 million per year) and Stephen A. Smith ($12 million per year) and they’re still in add-on mode because they According to the sources.

Last week, The Post reported that McAfee is exploring a move to a network that could see him step away from FanDuel in the middle 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 perhaps not a favorite at the moment.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s belt-tightening is already being felt in negotiations with college football’s national championship game caller Chris Fowler. Fowler, who reportedly earns about $3 million a year, and ESPN have been apart in negotiations, according to sources.

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ESPN is following Pat McAfee despite his upcoming big layoffs.
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ESPN wants to keep Fowler, perhaps even with a slight raise, because he’s the college football major and Grand Slam tennis voice, but he’s not going to get a big raise to put him anywhere near the buck in the money.

According to sources, the most vulnerable people on the air are those who make seven or more figures and are not considered needle-carriers. Smith, late-night Sports Center anchor Scott Van Pelt and the “Monday Night Football” booth are considered the kind of “untouchable” talent.

Despite the cable subscribers’ cord cuts, ESPN is still a money cow for Disney, which is expected to show when it releases its separate earnings report in November. Previously, ESPN’s numbers were entered into Disney’s numbers and weren’t disaggregated, but under the new structure Iger recently revealed, ESPN will make its data public.

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

ESPN is currently in about 74 million homes, with each household paying in the $10 per month range, which means they still make three-quarters of a billion dollars a month before they even sell a single ad. 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 cheaper.

Iger recently stated that it is “inevitable” for ESPN to shift entirely to direct to the consumer. There is no exact date, according to sources, but it will happen in the next few years, if not sooner. ESPN will still be shown on cable and satellite, but its full programming will be available to cord-cutters. From year to year, ESPN recently reported that its ratings are up 8 percent overall and 14 percent in primetime.

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Although ESPN has retained its place at the top of sports media and kept firing – not as much as it did before – layoffs have become a regular part of the Bristol experience.

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

Under the direction of ESPN President Jimmy Pittaro, the division heads were told to scrutinize their divisions to make them as efficient as possible.
Getty Images

Some people had multi-year contracts and were paid, but were let go for bookkeeping reasons. According to the sources, contract employees are also under scrutiny this time.

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

All this time, ESPN has spent big on sports rights, most notably in 2021 for the NFL, which it has agreed to pay close to $2.7 billion per season. Its agreement includes two Super Bowls and runs through the 2033 season. It also includes flexible scheduling on Monday Night Football beginning this year. This was followed by spending $33 million a year on behalf of Buck and Aikman.

Now, though, there’s guidance from Disney’s top of the line. This is expected to be done by the end of April or early May.

Carton and Roberts Kay won again

ESPN New York’s Michael Kay has landed a huge new seven-figure contract, but his show is still being beaten by WFAN’s “Cartoon & Roberts.” In the second month of the three-season Winter Book, Craig Carton and Evan Roberts placed third (7.2 share) in The Michael Kay Show’s seventeenth share (2.1) among males ages 25 to 54, according to Nielsen Audio. In the morning, WFAN’s “Boomer & Gio” was No. 1 in the market (13.1 share), while ESPN’s “DiPietro & Rothenberg” was No. 11 (3.3). At the midpoint, FAN’s “Tiki & Tierney” ranked fourth (5.4), while hosts’ ESPN group ranked 14th (2.2).

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