More details are emerging on the anticipated next round of ESPN layoffs, which Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Deitsch reports may extend beyond what was initially anticipated and may hit the SportsCenter franchise particularly hard. Michael McCarthy of The Sporting News first reported the next round of layoffs in late October, writing that they would come in late November or early December with “40-60 positions potentially being impacted.” Deitsch’s piece says more than 100 people are now expected to be laid off after Thanksgiving:
ESPN will lay off more than 100 staffers after the Thanksgiving holidays, multiple sources tell Sports Illustrated. The layoffs, which were described by a person briefed on the plans, will hit positions across ESPN including front-facing talent on the television side, producers, executives, and digital and technology staffers. The SportsCenter franchise is expected to be hit hard—including on-air people—given the frequency of the show has lessened considerably on main network ESPN.
…Part of the reason ESPN will conduct the moves in late November/early December, two sources said, is to get employees an additional year in the stock vesting program.
…Multiple ESPN employees in speaking with SI said the atmosphere in Bristol is tense, especially in the SportsCenter division. Asked to characterize how employees are feeling, one longtime on-air anchor offered one word: “Queasy.”
This follows the 2015 layoffs of around 300-350 employees (4.3 per cent of ESPN’s estimated 8,000-person workforce at that time) who were mostly involved in production and other behind-the-scenes roles, and the April layoffs of over 100 employees, including many TV anchors and analysts as well as numerous digital reporters. The reported hit to SportsCenter appears to be additional evidence of that franchise’s diminishing role at ESPN, and suggests that they’re further de-emphasizing straight news and highlights on TV.
It should be noted that this comes following some moves in ESPN’s senior executive ranks. In June, Connor Schell was promoted from senior vice president and executive producer for ESPN original content to executive vice president, content, essentially ESPN president John Skipper’s old job as content chief. That led to executive vice-president Norby Williamson (production, executive editor), senior vice-president Rob King (SportsCenter, news and information) and senior vice-president Stephanie Druley (events, studio production) all reporting to Schell rather than directly to Skipper, and to executive vice-presidents Marie Donoghue (global business and content strategy) and John Kosner (digital and print media) leaving the company.
In September, further changes were made, with Williamson taking over SportsCenter in addition to the rest of his studio production duties and King shifting to oversee 30 for 30, ESPN Films, stats and information, the ESPN app and “ESPN’s entire portfolio of newsgathering and storytelling assets.” So this marks the first major changes to SportsCenter with Schell and Williamson fully in charge of the property.
Awful Announcing has learned that many of SportsCenter‘s biggest on-camera names likely appear to be safe, as do several hosts of sport-specific shows. But there’s plenty of uncertainty ahead for many involved with SportsCenter, and for many others at ESPN.