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ESPN On-Air Jobs Among Cuts as Struggling Disney Unit Retrenches

  • Network reducing correspodents reporting from the field
  • Sports TV leader grappling with soaring costs, fleeing viewers

Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN network will cut about 100 staffers this week, according to a person familiar with the matter, as the leader in sports TV copes with rising programming costs and an eroding subscriber base.

ESPN President John Skipper, in a memo to staff Wednesday, said the network has been determining whom to cut from a pool of higher-paid, on-air talent, which includes anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play. The company has 8,000 global employees. He didn’t indicate who will be let go.

Among those who confirmed on Twitter they had been laid off were football reporter Ed Werner, baseball writer Jayson Stark and hockey correspondent Pierre LeBrun.

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“We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week,” he wrote in the memo. “A limited number of other positions will also be affected and a handful of new jobs will be posted to fill various needs.”

Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger has said this year’s modest earnings-per-share growth would be an “anomaly,” due in part to a $600 million increase in costs for rights to National Basketball Association games. That’s especially painful as some consumers cancel pay-TV subscriptions in favor of online options. ESPN, the highest-priced part of the typical cable TV package, is particularly impacted by cord-cutters because the network generates so much revenue from subscriptions.

Disney, which releases first-quarter earnings results May 9, may report as much as a 16 percent increase in cable costs, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence analysis.

The availability of sports clips and news online is also contributing to viewer losses for the network’s flagship SportsCenter program. ESPN is devoting more time to commentary shows filmed in the studio and less to reports from the field, reducing the need for correspondents. The network has long employed reporters who followed each of the major teams.

In a separate note to employees Wednesday, ESPN executives said the network is focused on providing content “at any minute of the day on any screen” as fans spent more times on phones.

ESPN, which is based in Bristol, Connecticut, also cut jobs in 2013 and 2015.

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