For the past five months, we’ve covered the slow drip of layoffs, departures, and brand shutterings at Bleacher Report. The moves continue an unfortunate trend across sports media, in which the pandemic is forcing a lot of larger companies like Disney and AT&T, Bleacher Report’s parent company, to make some hard decisions about the scope of their ambitions and overall strategy. In the continuation of that trend, Awful Announcing has learned that Chief Content Officer Sam Toles, Chief Operations Officer Alex Vargas, and SVP of Engineering Miguel DeAvila are leaving the company, with their positions now eliminated going forward.
Toles was viewed as the most senior executive at Bleacher Report with the most oversight in the wake of the departure of Bleacher Report CEO Howard Mittman. In the past half year, the CEO, COO, and Chief Content Officer positions have all been eliminated. The moves come amidst the backdrop of an internal memo sent today by WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar announcing thousands of layoffs.
Bleacher Report is said to be sending out an internal email later today announcing the departures, as well as a new leadership structure that will tout added responsibilities to a group that includes Drew Watkins, Stefanie Rapp, Tina Shah, Edward Romaine, Doug Bernstein, Bennett Spector, and others. The elimination of the positions previously occupied by Toles, Vargas, and DeAvila is described by Turner as an “elimination of the roles and delayering of the company” with an eye on continuous integration between the Bleacher Report and Turner Sports brands. It is believed that there may be some more moving parts still to come as Bleacher Report continues to integrate with Turner Sports. The engineering part of the company, which is mostly based in San Francisco, is believed to be another area the company is eyeing for further moves.
While the talking point of the “elimination of the roles and delayering of the company” certainly holds water, the reduction of headcount and the stream of leadership departures has rattled a large swath of the company. Several current and past employees voiced credence to the theory, as well as an outright preference, that the company to be sold, given the current trajectory AT&T is on in terms of cost cutting. Back in May, there were some whispers that DraftKings was interested in exploring a purchase of Bleacher Report, although many in the industry threw cold water on that rumor and Turner has been adamant that the speculation was totally unfounded. But last month, Turner and DraftKings did come to an agreement on a long term partnership, so the companies are indeed talking on some level and AT&T has said they are looking to sell assets to reduce their debt load.
Ultimately, both views of what’s motivating these moves can simultaneously be true. AT&T can be reducing headcount to save costs and better integrate the company, and maybe we’re at the end of this headcount reduction cycle and the company will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the pandemic. It also needs to be said again that Bleacher Report and Turner are not alone at all in having to make cuts, as the pandemic affects not only their business but their parent company’s business. That said, improved efficiencies and cost cutting may end up making the company more attractive to a buyer, following the Lane Pryce playbook in season 3 of Mad Men. At the end of the day, Turner, Bleacher Report management, and Bleacher Report employees would really benefit from some semblance of stability going forward, as the last half year has certainly sowed an awful amount of angst and uncertainty to the people still remaining at the company.