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The "Worldwide Leader In Sports" is taking some big hits, as another bad quarter is bringing some changes to ESPN. The sports network's ratings have been noticeably drooping for some time now, and with things not improving, pink slips are rolling out. Perhaps the most surprising news, however, is who is on the chopping block as ESPN looks to lay off staff: the familiar on-air faces.
As it stands right now, ESPN is not looking to lay off any staff working behind the scenes, or anyone regarded as crew. Instead, The Wrap reports Disney is looking to give the boot to a large number of on-screen talent. That's a broad amount, considering it could mean anyone who does visible reporting in any capacity for the network, but it's been said that the very biggest names are likely safe. I'm sure there will be many people slamming their keyboard because polarizing talent like Stephen A. Smith will still likely have a job, but who knows what will happen? Layoffs are expected to begin soon and conclude sometime around June, so that's when we'll definitely have a better idea.
A change in faces isn't new for the network, which has dropped some high profile names in the past. Guys like Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd were picked up by competitor Fox Sports Network, which surely doesn't help ESPN's ratings, but the competition is playing a smaller part of the bigger problem for the network. ESPN may not be hemorrhaging money in all respects, but the company just isn't hitting the projected numbers set by parent company Disney. Television revenue is a big pull for Disney's earnings, so any decrease in profit is going to be met with change. It's likely someone did the math and realized they could trim a dozen analysts and former athletes from the payroll and get ESPN execs back in good graces.
Staff cuts aren't the only thing ESPN is doing to help its situation, either. Disney CEO Bob Iger said last month that all Disney networks were going to be running fewer commercials in an effort to retain viewership, and the company is also working on getting ESPN back to the cord cutters who'd since abandoned the network by making it available on a growing number of services and platforms. If the company can start getting back any of the 600,000+ people they lost last October, due to one form of unsubscribing or another, surely that will ease the strain.
It will be interesting to see how and who ESPN weeds out during this layoff phase. Will it be enough to reverse the issues the network has had in the past year? We'll keep you up to date if any big names happen to drop, or if things get any worse for ESPN. Until then, pop on over to our midseason premiere guide and be thankful you don't work for the sports network right now.