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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Bad Day In Bristol: ESPN Axing 20 On-Air Talents

  • NBA game analyst Jeff Van Gundy out after 16 years on No. 1 NBA team.
  • ESPN to examine contract renewals over the next 12 months.
ESPN layoffs continue.
Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images, Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports and Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.

Steve Young, Jeff Van Gundy, Suzy Kolber and Max Kellerman were among ESPN’s layoffs that reached an excruciating crescendo today with roughly 20 on-air personalities losing their jobs.

“Today I join the many hard-working colleagues who have been laid off,” Kolber wrote on Twitter. “Heartbreaking, but 27 years at ESPN was a good run.”

Among the ESPN talent Front Office Sports has confirmed who are getting the axe:

  • Steve Young: The former Super Bowl MVP and Pro Football Hall of Famer has served as analyst on “Monday Night Countdown” and other NFL studio shows since 2000.
  • Jeff Van Gundy: The former New York Knicks analyst spent 16 years on ESPN/ABC’s lead NBA game crew with Mark Jackson and Mike Breen. “Jeff Van Gundy is a stunner. He was making millions,” said one source. “He and [Mike] Breen are the most watchable on ESPN’s NBA coverage.”
  • Max Kellerman: His “This Just In” weekday afternoon show is expected to be replaced by one hosted by Pat McAfee.
  • Jalen Rose: NBA analyst and former co-host of “Get Up” with Mike Greenberg and the departed Michelle Beadle.
  • Keyshawn Johnson: The writing was on the wall for the NFL analyst after he lost his morning radio show. The layoffs of Van Gundy, Rose and Johnson were first reported by The New York Post.
  • Matt Hasselbeck: Former QB joined ESPN as an analyst in 2016 on the same day he retired from NFL afrer an 18-year career.
  • Suzy Kolber: Host of “Monday Night Countdown” and a 27-year ESPN veteran.
  • LaPhonso Ellis: The men’s college basketball analyst has served on “College GameDay” with Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Rece Davis since the 2019-2020 season.
  • Todd McShay: NFL Draft analyst.
  • Ashley Brewer: Los Angeles-based “SportsCenter” anchor.
  • David Pollack: Former NFL star turned panelist on “College GameDay” since 2011.
  • Nick Friedell: NBA reporter and guest analyst on “Get Up.”
  • Jordan Cornette: Host of the ACC Network’s “ACC Huddle.”
  • Jason Fitz: ESPN Radio host.
  • Gene Wojciechowski: “College DameDay” correspondent tweeted his exit.
  • Joon Lee: Staff writer tweeted his departure on Friday.

Kellerman and Johnson were expected to lose their roles on their ESPN Radio show, which also includes Jay Williams as a co-host. None of the three appeared on Friday morning’s show.

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ESPN management under Jimmy Pitaro was loathe to order more layoffs, said sources. But they decided they would save more jobs of behind-the-scenes workers by focusing on seven-figure salaries of on-air talents who don’t work that often.

It’s also easier for celebrity ex-athletes and coaches to land new gigs compared to Bristol-based producers, directors and editors.

Following ESPN’s layoffs of Ellis, Van Gundy and Rose, the next shoe to drop is the NFL coverage team.

“Some big legacy names are going to be moving on,” warned one source. “Their NFL coverage is going to look different next year.”

Here’s how the layoffs unfolded on Friday.

Starting at 9 a.m. ET, the on-air talents received phone call informing them they were “no longer contributing to ESPN,” said one source.

Most of those let go will be bought out of their guaranteed contracts. They will still get their full pay. But won’t appear anymore on ESPN platforms.

If they choose to take another job, they must negotiate an exit from their current contracts with ESPN. That will likely involve giving up part of the money ESPN owes them.

Unfortunately, ESPN’s slow-motion layoffs aren’t over. 

Once today’s talent exercise is concluded, ESPN managers will take a microscope to the rest of its long-term talent contracts. 

Many won’t be renewed. That process is expected to take up to 12 months.

NBA analyst Vince Carter’s deal is up in September, said sources. He’s not expected to be renewed. Ditto for sports betting insider Doug Kezirian and boxing commentator Andre Ward. Their deals won’t be renewed either, said sources.

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Front Office Sports previously broke the news that ESPN is not renewing the deals of NFL analyst Rob Ninkovich, NHL analyst Chris Chelios and popular SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett.

ESPN is not publicly releasing names, leaving it up to talent to share the news of their departure.

The Worldwide Leader in Sports employs about 5,000 people worldwide; 4,000 on its headquarters campus in Bristol, Conn.

“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. 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,” said ESPN in a statement. 

“This is an extremely challenging process, involving individuals who have had tremendous impact on our company. These difficult decisions, based more on overall efficiency than merit, will help us meet our financial targets and ensure future growth.”

The six-month-long process of layoffs that began at parent Walt Disney Co. and extended to ESPN has devastated morale at the company.

During a previous round of off-camera cutbacks, ESPN lost veterans such as beloved communications ace Mike Soltys, Emmy Award-winning producer John Dahl and ESPN+ chief Russell Wolff.

“This place feels like a morgue,” said one employee in Bristol.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a developing story that will be updated throughout the day.

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