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ESPN to Lay Off 500

ESPN logo in hallway in ESPN's main campus
(Image credit: Melissa Rawlins / ESPN Images)

The Walt Disney Co.’s sports juggernaut ESPN will reduce its workforce by about 500 people, network president Jimmy Pitaro said in a memo to employees Thursday, the latest division in the company to feel the sting of COVID-19.

ESPN has about 6,000 employees, so the reductions work out to about 8% of its total workforce. News of the layoffs comes as Disney prepares to release its fiscal Q4 results on Nov. 12.

“For some time, ESPN has been engaged in planning for its future amidst tremendous disruption in how fans consume sports,” Pitaro said in a statement. “The pandemic’s effect on ESPN clearly accelerated our thinking on all fronts. Today, as a result of these circumstances, we informed our employees that we have made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce to create a more agile, efficient organization.

“We are parting ways with many exceptional teammates, all of whom have made important contributions to ESPN,” Pitaro continued. “These are not easy decisions, and we will work hard to make their transitions easier. We will move forward in a manner that will allow us to continue to best serve sports fans.”

According to the memo -- first reported by the New York Post --  ESPN will eliminate 300 positions and 200 jobs currently open won’t be filled. It is the latest round of layoffs from the entertainment giant, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. Earlier in the week, Disney said it would lay off an additional 11,400 workers at its Florida theme parks by the end of the year. 

According to sources familiar with ESPN, there is no specific timing for the layoffs, but the network is communicating them to employees now and they will have a period of time before their last day with the company. In its report, The Post said on-air personnel would be spared, but the paper added that it has kept a keen eye on contracts, allowing some to expire. 

The layoffs are the latest of several personnel moves that Disney has made since the pandemic took hold in March, including reducing executive salaries, furloughs and other cost cutting mergers. But in his memo, Pitaro alluded that those moves weren’t enough. 

“We have, however, reached an inflection point,” Pitaro said in the memo. “The speed at which change is occurring requires great urgency, and we must now deliver on serving sports fans in a myriad of new ways. Placing resources in support of our direct-to-consumer business strategy, digital, and, of course, continued innovative television experiences, is more critical than ever.”

The full memo sent to employees follows:

Dear colleagues,

As you know, we value transparency in our internal dialogue, and that means in both good and challenging times. After much consideration, I have some difficult organizational decisions to share. We will be reducing our workforce, impacting approximately 300 valued team members, in addition to 200 open positions.

Today is hard because ESPN has always been — and will always be — fortified by its fantastic people. Teamwork, dedication, spirit and grit have built this place and are what make ESPN special. 

Prior to the pandemic, we had been deeply engaged in strategizing how best to position ESPN for future success amidst tremendous disruption in how fans consume sports.  The pandemic’s significant impact on our business clearly accelerated those forward-looking discussions. In the short term, we enacted various steps like executive and talent salary reductions, furloughs and budget cuts, and we implemented innovative operations and production approaches, all in an effort to weather the COVID storm.

We have, however, reached an inflection point. The speed at which change is occurring requires great urgency, and we must now deliver on serving sports fans in a myriad of new ways. Placing resources in support of our direct-to-consumer business strategy, digital, and, of course, continued innovative television experiences, is more critical than ever.

However, building a successful future in a changing world means facing hard choices. Making informed decisions about how and where we need to go – and, as always, in the most efficient way possible - is by far the most challenging job of any leadership team. And, while it must be done looking through a business lens, it also must be done with great respect and genuine concern for people.  

We are parting ways with some exceptional team members - some of whom have been here for a long time – and all of whom have made important contributions to ESPN. We’re very grateful for all they’ve meant to us, and I assure you we are taking steps to make their transitions easier.

I am proud of the people at ESPN. Together, we have overcome tremendous challenges and adversity over these past several months and please know that the decisions and plans executed today were not made lightly. They are, however, necessary and I am convinced that we will move forward and effectively navigate this unprecedented disruption.

Our Human Resources and Communications teams will continue to keep you posted on any updates, and you’ll be hearing more detail about our future direction in the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you have questions about anything outlined in this note, please do not hesitate to raise them with your leadership team or HR Business Partner.

With gratitude,

Jimmy