ESPN to Eliminate 500 Jobs in Fallout From Virus Disruption

ESPN, the sports TV unit of Walt Disney Co., plans to eliminate about 500 jobs throughout the organization as the media giant continues to adapt to changing viewer habits.

The company will dismiss about 300 people and won’t fill 200 open positions, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a memo sent to employees Thursday.

“For some time, ESPN has been engaged in planning for its future amidst tremendous disruption in how fans consume sports,” Pitaro said in an emailed statement. “The pandemic’s effect on ESPN clearly accelerated our thinking on all fronts.”

This year has been especially challenging for sports TV, with live events canceled for several months due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Professional leagues resumed play last summer, though often with reduced schedules and no live fans. ESPN will have about 5,000 employees after the cuts.

ESPN was once the most profitable part of Burbank, California-based Disney. But the business has been challenged in recent years by shifts in TV viewing that prompted millions of customers to cancel their cable and satellite subscriptions. To cope, the network has periodically cut staff, including a number of reporters and anchors in 2017.

After the coronavirus break, the ratings for nearly all sports plummeted with leagues forced to compete with one another for viewers. Audiences were also diverted by coverage of the pandemic and the U.S. presidential election, leading to a surge in ratings for TV news.

Disney recently reorganized its film, TV and direct-to-consumer businesses to put more emphasis on streaming services that include ESPN+. Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek said at the time that the reorganization could result in job reductions.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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