When the pandemic hit, ESPN was left with hardly any games to show for four months. Sports is back, but ratings and advertising still lag. Now the other shoe has dropped for employees of the cable network. The company is laying off 300 people and not filling another 200 jobs, USA Today reports. ESPN made similar cuts in 2015 and 2017. Contracts for certain on-air employees will be allowed to expire. The network has extended the contracts of some on-air staffers with base salaries below $50,000 and bonuses for each on-air appearance, per the New York Times. Many of them had had much larger contracts that guaranteed a certain number of on-air appearances. ESPN employs about 4,000 people at its Connecticut headquarters and another 2,500 around the world. The cuts will hit broadcast production hardest but reach into most parts of the company.
In addition to the pandemic, the network is dealing with unfavorable trends, per the New York Times: As viewers switch to streaming services, the number of US households paying for TV programming has fallen from 100.5 million in 2014 to about 80 million now. "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 network's president wrote in the layoff memo. Disney, the network's owner, also has been hit hard by the pandemic, across most of its divisions. Still, ESPN spends huge amounts on league contracts for programming. Bob Ley, an original ESPN employee in 1979, took a shot at that strategy, per Barrett Sports Media, in a post lamenting the loss of journalistic expertise and experience. "Enjoy the DIS stock price and your NFL football," Ley tweeted. (More ESPN stories.)