It’s been known for months that there are major layoffs coming to Disney, with CEO Bob Iger announcing 7,000 impending cuts across all divisions in February (around three percent of their global workforce). That’s a wider trend, with many tech and media companies conducting layoffs, contract non-renewals, hiring freezes and more recently, but the Disney one is notable for the expected impact on ESPN, now one of their three main divisions. There’s been little out there yet on what exactly is expected to happen at ESPN specifically, but Andrew Marchand of The New York Post touched on some of that in a clip from his Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast with John Ourand of Sports Business Journal:
CLIP: ESPN is expected to have three rounds of layoffs with the first coming soon and some on-air folks are likely going to have decisions to make.
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) April 19, 2023
There are a few notable things Marchand spells out there, including that this will likely cover three rounds, that the first won’t involve many on-air figures, and that some on-air figures may be asked to choose between taking pay cuts to stay or being laid off. Here’s what he says:
“I think they’re happening relatively soon, I think there’s going to be three rounds, from what I understand. In the first round, there’s probably going to be less [on-air] talent, probably more normal people and executives, potentially. We’re speaking now, going into the podcast, and I don’t know exactly, I’ve heard different things about when the first will come in, but then I think there will be two other rounds of layoffs.”
Marchand then describes his recent writing on Marcus Spears’ new deal with the company and then says “They’re making choices. And then I do think they’re going to go to some other people who make big numbers and say ‘You can stay, but we’re going to cut you in half.’ People are going to have decisions to make on that. They might end up just leaving and getting paid their full contract. That’s a tough decision to make, to keep working and make less versus leaving and getting your full number, but where does that leave you going forward?”
There still aren’t a lot of specifics there, which adds to the general uncertainty around these layoffs. There’s been much less reported about them in advance than with some past rounds of ESPN layoffs. But there are some notable details here from what Marchand says, specifically with the first round likely focusing on people other than on-air talent (we’ve seen some past rounds of layoffs on those fronts too, so that could be another significant blow for ESPN production and other staffers).
It’s also interesting with the discussion of on-air talent being offered a choice between either paycuts of up to 50 percent or a full layoff. That’s also not unprecedented, with Kenny Mayne among the prominent figures who have previously spoken about leaving ESPN after being offered the opportunity to stay under a massive paycut. But that was in the negotiation of a contract renewal; asking for a paycut on an ongoing contract feels tougher, especially as the alternative is that people will be paid off in full (but likely unable to appear on air for ESPN or competitors during that time; there are still perhaps some workarounds there, though, as Brett McMurphy showed with Facebook posts in 2017 and 2018 while ESPN was paying him not to work). So it will be worth keeping an eye on if anyone takes ESPN up on those offers of staying in prominent roles with less pay.