ESPN Fires 20 On-Air Personalities, Faces Decline in Reach and Revenue

  • by:
  • Source: Wayne Dupree
  • 07/01/2023
Approximately 20 on-air personalities from ESPN are leaving, including two well-known NBA stars: game analyst Jeff Van Gundy and studio co-host Jalen Rose.

One of many chapters in a 16-year career with ESPN, Keyshawn Johnson, a former NFL player, co-hosted the national morning show on ESPN Radio. Max Kellerman, co-host of This Just In and a former sparring partner of Stephen A. Smith on the daily morning TV show First Take, is also no longer on the air. He also co-hosts Johnson's radio show. Suzy Kolber, who has worked for ESPN for 27 years and most recently hosted Monday Night Countdown, also announced her departure. In a tweet, she acknowledged that the end of her career was "heartbreaking," but she also expressed gratitude and the fact that she had "lasted so long for a woman in this business."

Numerous those affected by the new cuts, according to the source, have contracts that go past June 30 and will be paid out in accordance with those agreements; however, parting ways will allow ESPN to avoid larger layoffs. Now that the sports operation is a separate Disney division, its financials are easier to see.

NHL analyst Chris Chelios, NFL analyst Rob Ninkovich, and 23-year SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett are also leaving as part of the recent wave of departures. Recent weeks had seen reports of those particular exits.

The process of finding additional cost savings in the area of public-facing commentator salaries has started, ESPN stated in a statement, "given the current environment." "This exercise will involve a small number of job cuts in the near future and a continued emphasis on cost management when we discuss individual contract renewals in the coming months. This is a very difficult process that involves people who have had a significant impact on our business. We will achieve our financial goals and ensure future growth by making these challenging decisions, which are based more on overall efficiency than merit.

Due to ongoing cord-cutting, ESPN has been navigating a significant change in its economic foundation. The network reported reaching 74 million homes in 2022, down from a peak of about 100 million households a decade earlier, depriving it of sizable distribution revenue. The linear tune-in for all traditional networks has been declining as more viewers switch to streaming, with the exception of events like college football, the NFL, and the NBA, which have seen strong ratings.

Disney has acknowledged that it intends to offer a more comprehensive version of ESPN as a stand-alone streaming option, but the transition will be challenging given the network's contracts with pay-TV providers, leagues, and other parties. ESPN+, which debuted in 2018, has a subscriber base of 25.3 million but does not offer a complete slate of news or live event programming.

ESPN must deal with sharp increases in sports rights fees at the same time that it faces disruptions to its consistent revenue streams. Disney recently decided to renew its contract with the NFL, increase its SEC college football presence, and reclaim the NHL, but when that agreement expires after the 2024–25 season, it will cost multiple billions of dollars to decide whether to renew with the NBA.

Along with Mike Breen and Mark Jackson, Van Gundy, the former head coach of the New York Knicks, has long called NBA games for ESPN. Rose has previously hosted the daytime talk show Jalen & Jacoby in addition to his responsibilities at the NBA studio.

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