The Athletic Rolls Back Coronavirus-Driven Salary Cuts

    • The Athletic will rescind 10% salary cuts for staffers.
    • It is good news for the sports media industry on the same day ESPN announced the worst job cuts in its history.

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On the same day ESPN announced the worst job cuts in its 41-year history, The Athletic rolled back coronavirus-driven salary reductions for its workforce of 570 people.

With live sports essentially shut down for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Athletic asked all of its employees on June 5 to take at least a 10% salary cut for the remainder of 2020. Those making an annual salary of $150,000 or more took an even bigger pay cut. 

At the same time, The Athletic further reduced costs by laying off roughly 8% of its staff — and cutting back on nearly 100% of its freelancers. 

But the return of live sports has boosted The Athletic’s bottom line, said sources. 

During a conference call with employees on Nov. 5, The Athletic announced it was restoring all employee salaries back to their pre-COVID levels. It retroactively dated the change to Oct. 15 — giving staffers an additional pay boost heading into the holiday season. 

The Athletic declined to comment. 

Meanwhile, company morale at ESPN was shaken Nov. 5 after President Jimmy Pitaro announced the company was cutting 300 staffers and eliminating 200 open job positions. The cuts fell mostly on behind-the-scenes workers involved in remote production. 

But ESPN’s on-air talent will be impacted too. The company is taking a hard-line negotiating stance, declining to renew the contracts of some talents. Or offering reduced salary options for others if they want to stay employed.

After struggling through the COVID-19 storm, ESPN was forced to reach an “inflection point,” wrote Pitaro in an internal memo to staffers.

He added in a public statement: “For some time, ESPN has been engaged in planning for its future amidst tremendous disruption in how fans consume sports. The pandemic’s effect on ESPN clearly accelerated our thinking on all fronts.