A bad year might get much worse for ESPN

ESPN braces for more layoffs, reportedly before Christmas

SportsCenter could be hit hard if ESPN decides to undergo another round of layoffs before the end of the year.

It’s been a tough year for ESPN, but things might get even worse heading into the Christmas season.

According to Sporting News’ Michael McCarthy, ESPN is preparing a new round of layoffs that could hit 40 to 60 positions, including on-air talent, as soon as late November.

Any reduction in the workforce would come on the heels of layoffs in April that claimed the jobs of nearly 100 employees, many of whom were big names, such as Ed Werder, John Clayton, and Jayson Stark.

ESPN declined to comment on the report.

It’s expected that any more job losses would cut heavily into the network’s embattled SportsCenter brand. SportsCenter anchors Jaymee Sire, Jade McCarthy, and Jay Crawford lost their jobs during the first round of layoffs, and Lindsay Czarniak walked away in August when her contract expired after failing to agree on a role with ESPN.

The network has about 8,000 employees across the globe.

The cuts come as ESPN is being squeezed by the combination of expensive contracts to secure live sports rights and viewers’ ditching cable subscriptions in favor of less-expensive TV offerings. After topping 100 million subscribers in 2011, ESPN is estimated to have 87.22 million subscribers, according to the most recent numbers from Nielsen. That’s a loss of roughly 13 million cable subscribers in just six years, and 220,000 since March.

Of course, not all those 13 million subscribers were ESPN fans. But ESPN charges distributors a monthly fee of $7.21 per subscriber, whether they watch the network or not. Disney charges distributors another $0.90 for ESPN2, according to SNL Kagan, an offering of S&P Global Market Intelligence. That’s up more than 120 percent since 2007, when ESPN charged just $3.26 per subscriber.

Disney reported disappointing third-quarter fiscal results back in February, primarily because of weak performance by ESPN and the company’s media networks. Operating income for Disney’s cable networks fell 23 percent because of a decline at ESPN and the higher costs related to a new NBA deal that cost the network $1.4 billion a year, a 143 percent increase over its previous contract with the league.

The network has also had successes. According to SportsBusiness Daily’s Austin Karp, ESPN’s Monday Night Football is the only NFL television package that has seen ratings increases this season. ESPN’s NBA ratings are also up to start the season, and the ratings of ESPN’s college football coverage remain solid. And despite cutbacks, the network continues to be a magnet for top talent, drawing in FS1’s Katie Nolan and Yahoo! Sports personalities Adrian Wojnarowski and Greg Wyshynski.

Disney also plans to launch an ESPN streaming service next year after purchasing a majority stake in BAMTech for $1.54 billion. So far, details have been sparse, but the new service will live within the ESPN app and let fans watch about 10,000 live games throughout the year. Cable subscribers will be able to access more of the network’s content.

Still, it’s been a difficult year for the sports network. This month, ESPN was forced to pull out of a partnership with Barstool Sports after Sunday NFL Countdown host Sam Ponder called out the company’s history of sexist and vulgar comments. The network has also found itself in the sights of the White House and conservatives after SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill called President Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter and it pulled broadcaster Robert Lee from calling a Virginia football game because of his name.

On Tuesday, former Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger accused an unnamed ESPN employee of sexual harassment during two job interviews, in 2007 and 2008. ESPN said it had no knowledge of Sterger’s allegations and would investigate her claims.

“We have no record of this ever being brought to our attention,” the network said in a statement. “We thoroughly investigate all allegations brought to us. Fostering a professional and respectful workplace is a top priority for ESPN, and we always encourage people to report any issues.”