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Thursday, June 13, 2024

ESPN Hit By Disney-Mandated Layoffs

  • Among those laid-off is 43-year communications veteran Mike Soltys.
  • Layoffs are part of Disney's plan to slash 7,000 and $5.5 billion in costs.
Disney is open to potentially selling an equity stake in ESPN.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m absolutely gutted.”

That was the anguished reaction of one ESPN executive as long-feared layoffs kicked in Monday at the network’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

Among those let go was Mike Soltys, a beloved 43-year veteran and the second-longest-tenured employee at ESPN. 

The layoffs are part of Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger’s mandate to slash 7,000 jobs and $5.5 billion in costs.

  • The first wave of layoffs in March didn’t impact ESPN, but this week’s could cost fewer than 100 ESPN staff their jobs, according to CNBC.
  • Another wave will hit ESPN in early summer, possibly affecting on-air talent, as the network evaluates everything from salaries to job performance.  
  • Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a memo: “We will have another wave of notifications that will be completed by the start of the summer for those that are not in front-facing talent roles.”

Timing will be everything for on-air talent.

There are at least ten or so untouchables ranging from Stephen A. Smith, Troy Aikman, Joe Buck, Kirk Herbstreit and Mike Greenberg to Scott Van Pelt, Doris Burke, Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and pending free agent Mina Kimes. 

But everybody else is vulnerable — especially talents with expiring contracts or less than a year on their deals. The fear is that the coming layoffs could be as bad or worse than 2017, when ESPN dumped big names like Trent Dilfer and Ron Jaworski.

The layoffs come as the network tries to retain the NBA’s billion-dollar media rights against possible bidders like NBC Sports, Amazon, and Apple.

Burke previously told Front Office Sports she was optimistic ESPN would hang on to the NBA. But you never know.

“I take nothing for granted. Absolutely nothing,” she said. 

UPDATE: Russell Wolff, a 26-year veteran who headed the ESPN+ streaming service, is among those also leaving ESPN, according to the Wall Street Journal.

On Tuesday, Peter Gianesini, senior director of digital audio programming, announced he was let go after 25 years.

“Thank you to the talent who trusted me with their voice and their reputation. I never, ever took that responsibility lightly,” he wrote on LinkedIn.

Later on Tuesday, Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight, announced on Twitter that his contract was up soon. “I expect that I’ll be leaving at the end of it,” he tweeted.

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