ESPN logo for Nielsen coverage estimates.

For many weeks now there has been news that there would be a day where major ESPN layoffs, including on-air talent, were coming. That day has apparently arrived.

ESPN released a statement by John Skipper on Tuesday morning to employees in Bristol about the cuts. While Skipper doesn’t explicitly mention people losing their jobs, he does talk about the “difficult decisions” that have to be made. He also emphasizes ESPN’s continuing content evolution and the need to become more “efficient and nimble.” As part of that Skipper also says new jobs will be coming to Bristol.

Here is the statement from Skipper in full:

ESPN has been actively engaged throughout its history in navigating changes in technology and fan behavior in order to continue to deliver quality, breakthrough content. Today, we are again focused on a strategic vision that will propel our vast array of networks and services forward.

A necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions. Our content strategy – primarily illustrated in recent months by melding distinct, personality-driven SportsCenter TV editions and digital-only efforts with our biggest sub-brand – still needs to go further, faster…and as always, must be efficient and nimble.  Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent—anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play—necessary to meet those demands.  We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week.  A limited number of other positions will also be affected and a handful of new jobs will be posted to fill various needs.

These decisions impact talented people who have done great work for our company.  I would like to thank all of them for their efforts and their many contributions to ESPN.

Our objective in all we do is to best serve fans and their changing consumption habits while still maintaining an unparalleled and diverse talent roster that resonates with fans across all our platforms.  We will continue to foster creativity and investment in the products and resources necessary to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.

Thank you as always for your continuing dedication to our work.

ESPN’s PR wing Front Row released a tandem article to go along with Skipper’s statement highlighting their new content initiatives like the midnight SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, the new ESPN app, and multi-screen coverage of events like the College Football National Championship Game. While again the PR article says nothing specific about layoffs, it does say, “Tied to the news ESPN President John Skipper shared with ESPN employees this morning, we first wanted to thank our colleagues for their collective contributions.”

Both leading sports media reporters, John Ourand and Richard Deitsch, peg the number of layoffs happening in Bristol at 100 employees.

It’s the third major round of layoffs in the last four years at ESPN. In 2013 and in 2015, layoffs in Bristol were in the 300-400 range.

ESPN scribe Jim Miller had this to say about the news today:

Miller also called it an “awful day in Bristol”:

The media world is changing at such a rapid pace that large corporate entities are trying desperately to keep up with it. ESPN’s struggle to keep Disney shareholders happy and having a negative effect on its stock has been a major story over the past year. ESPN is far from the only place affected as we’ve seen the sports media world transform before our eyes so quickly that the versatility mentioned above is necessary when it’s not just straight-line TV that serves sports fans anymore. A multi-platform strategy and presence that is effective on television and radio and streaming and online and mobile is required. It’s reminiscent of what’s happened in local television as well where employees can’t just be reporters in the current age, but often have to shoot and/or edit their own stories to fill a multitude of roles.

For ESPN, this means a complete overhaul of their business model and distribution strategy that has seen them rise to become the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports. Rising rights fees and falling cable revenue has put them in a situation where they need to rethink things in a major way. Above it all, ESPN is still looking at how to cope with losing hundreds of millions of dollars in cable fees and also spending a couple billion more in rights fees.

To stay in that “worldwide leader” position for the next 40 years, they can’t be the same network they were in 1997 or even 2007 and 2012. We’ve seen those changes with SportsCenter barely resembling the show that it was 20 years ago and new episodes trying to reach new viewers at new times. We’ve seen it with the advent of streaming and WatchESPN. And we’ll continue to see it as the evolution of the industry forces networks like ESPN to try to keep up with the tide.

While ESPN is looking to the future, it means the present is a harsh reality for many individuals who have been valuable employees for years. Your thoughts have to be with all of those who will be directly impacted in today’s unfortunate news.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.