Wednesday was a sad day in Bristol, Conn., as ESPN began the process of laying off somewhere around 300 employees in the wake of rising television-rights costs combined with demands from parent company Disney to maintain profits amid the cord-cutting that threatens the network’s viewership numbers. The cuts will eliminate around 4 percent of the company’s workforce.
ESPN President John Skipper explained the rationale for the layoffs in a memo to the staff that was posted on the network’s P.R. Web site:
Our 36 years of continuous growth and success has been driven by our consistent willingness to reimagine our future, to embrace change and make the right choices for our business, including hard decisions that affect people who have been integral parts of our efforts.
Beginning today, we will be enacting a number of organizational changes at ESPN to better support our future goals – a process that will include the elimination of a number of positions, impacting friends and colleagues across the organization. …
No matter how many times we’ve adjusted course to lead the industry over the years, the decisions affecting our employees are never made lightly. It never gets any easier, but it’s a necessary part of our continued strategic evolution to ensure ESPN remains the leader in sports as well as the premier sports destination on any platform.
But don’t expect many names you would recognize from ESPN’s stable of on-air talent. Because most of these 1,000 “public-facing” employees are working under contract, they won’t be included in the layoffs.
Instead, the cuts will come from behind the scenes: the producers who get “SportsCenter” on the air, the editors who shepherd stories to ESPN.com and the network’s magazine, and the program directors who run the network’s local radio stations.
Among the cuts was Gus Ramsey, who had been with the network as a producer since 1994 and is a longtime friend of the since-departed Bill Simmons (Ramsey was a frequent guest on Simmons’s ESPN podcasts). Ramsey wrote a touching post on his personal blog Wednesday reflecting on his time at ESPN:
Over my time in Bristol I have been blessed to work with so many talented people, both on air and behind the scenes. I thank all of them. The anchors, analysts, producers, directors, production staff, the researchers, news editors, assignment desk workers, talent bookers, TDs, ADs and all the others who contribute every day. As a producer you walk in the door every day with a vision for what your show will be, but it takes dozens and dozens of people to help you execute that vision. It’s hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding when everyone gets on the same page and it goes well. In my 20+ years the successes far outweighed the non-successes (I refuse to call them failures) and that would not have been possible without the efforts of so many talented people.
Peter Gammons, the legendary baseball writer and longtime ESPN personality, tweeted out his support to Ramsey.
The other laid-off ESPN employees who have publicly revealed their status include Gerry Matalon, the network’s senior coordinator producer of talent planning and development who was credited with discovering the late Stuart Scott; Mike Thompson, the program director at ESPN Radio’s affiliate in Los Angeles; and Dave Miller, “a universally respected producer who has been an ESPN employee since his first year,” Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand reports.
The laid-off employees will receive 60 days notice, a severance package based on their years of service and outplacement benefits to help them find new work.