ESPN campus. Bristol, CT – October 19, 2016: Generic photo of the ESPN campus (Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

There have been a ton of sports media layoffs and furloughs this year, with many of those attributed to direct (a prolonged sports pause) and indirect (wider economic impacts) of COVID-19. Now, it seems like those are coming to ESPN. The Disney-owned network previously conducted large rounds of layoffs in April 2017 and November 2017, and has made some smaller rounds of cuts, non-renewals and so on since then. And Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports wrote Wednesday that it looks like further larger layoffs are coming to ESPN, saying those could hit 300 to 700 employees:

ESPN could lay off hundreds of employees in the coming weeks, sources told Front Office Sports.

One source pegged the potential number of job losses between 300 and 700 employees. Another estimated 400 possible lost jobs.

The cuts are expected to hit hardest among ESPN employees who work behind the camera. But some on-camera TV and radio talents could be impacted — particularly if their contracts are expiring this year. 

The network may also ask its highest-earning talent and executives to take a reduction in salary. The goal is to potentially cut tens of millions in salary, said sources.

An ESPN source told Awful Announcing that layoffs are expected to happen, but that there’s nothing specific known yet on scale or timing. The source added that there’s been some discussion of cuts in the next few weeks, but some talk that they might not happen until January. So there’s a lot of uncertainty there still. But it does seem that some cuts are coming to ESPN, and that does seem to make some sense in terms of the wider issues at Disney.

While ESPN and ABC actually performed relatively well for the company in their fiscal third quarter (through June 27) compared to other divisions like parks that were more directly impacted by COVID-19 closures, Disney as a whole is still facing major challenges right now. And that’s especially true with California’s Disneyland still closed (and with its opening not likely “in the immediate term,” as per comments Wednesday from California governor Gavin Newsom). Also, movie theaters are still closed in many U.S. states (and are not drawing well in the places where they are open), and Disney recently pushed many of its biggest movies to at least May 2021 as a result of that. So even if things at ESPN were going great (and they aren’t necessarily; ESPN has faced its own issues this year, but they’re just not necessarily as dramatic as what Disney’s other sectors have faced), it still might not be surprising to see some cost-cutting measures there (especially after Disney’s recent layoffs of around 28,000 employees on the parks side).

At this point, though, there’s very little tangible information known about what’s ahead with these cuts. And there are a lot of questions about how ESPN could find 300 to 700 more employees to cut, given the drastic cuts they made in April and November 2017 (with those latter ones particularly focusing on the aforementioned “behind-the-camera” employees McCarthy says this wave might target). This is a Disney division that’s already been through major waves of cost-cutting over the past few years, and further cuts may make things even more difficult for those left, asking them to take on more responsibility still to make up for departed colleagues. We’ll see what happens with this, but it’s certainly concerning for ESPN’s future, and for those who are working there.

-With files from Ben Koo.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.