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ESPN Bracing For Painful Round of Layoffs

  • Stephen A. Smith warns ESPN layoffs are ‘coming’.
  • Parent Disney slashing 7,000 jobs; $5.5 billion in costs.
ESPN camera operator at a basketball game.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN is bracing for painful layoffs in the coming weeks, sources tell Front Office Sports.

As part of a corporate restructuring, parent Disney is slashing 7,000 jobs and $5.5 billion in costs. The layoffs could amount to 3% of Disney’s global workforce.

Stephen A. Smith alluded to the network’s precarious situation on his “K[no]w Mercy” podcast. 

“Have you all been paying attention to the business landscape? Disney itself announced that over 7,000 employees are going to be let go,” Smith said. “ESPN is under the Disney umbrella. They’re going to have cuts coming. 

“Hell, for all I know, I might be one of them. Now, I doubt that. But it’s possible. No one knows.”

If anybody knows what’s up, it’s Smith. With a $13 million-plus annual salary, he’s ESPN’s second highest-paid talent behind Troy Aikman ($18 million). The star of top-rated “First Take” has the ear of the most powerful executives in Bristol.

ESPN’s footprint has been reduced to less than 75 million U.S. homes from 100 million in 2011, and the network has suffered several layoffs over the last decade.

  • Ravaged by the pandemic, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro cut 300 jobs and let 200 positions go unfilled in 2021.
  • In 2017, former president John Skipper laid off roughly 100 anchors, reporters, and analysts, including big names like Trent Dilfer, Danny Kanell, Jerome Bettis, Marc Stein and Len Elmore. 
  • ESPN dropped 300 employees in 2015.
ESPN becomes a key pillar in Disney re-organization.

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“I don’t think it will be as bad as 2017. But it might be bad,” said one source.

As part of Disney’s restructuring, chief executive officer Bob Iger has made ESPN one of three global “pillars,” along with Entertainment and Parks & Experiences. 

But Iger also rejected pleas from activist investors to spin off the sports network, declaring: “ESPN is a differentiator for this company.”

ESPN declined to comment.

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