ESPN Layoffs Include Jeff Van Gundy, Suzy Kolber, and Other On-Air Talent

From a Washington Post story by Ben Strauss headlined “ESPN layoffs include Jeff Van Gundy, Suzy Kolber, and other on-air talent”:

ESPN continued a summer of layoffs Friday, announcing cuts that are expected to claim around 20 on-camera and potentially high-profile jobs as the sports giant downsizes for the streaming era.

The network’s top NBA color commentator, former coach Jeff Van Gundy, and longtime reporter Suzy Kolber are among the cuts.

“In order to identify additional cost savings, ESPN determined it necessary to turn the cost management focus to public-facing commentator salaries, and that process has begun,” a memo read. “This exercise will include a small group of job cuts in the short-term and an ongoing focus on managing costs when we negotiate individual contract renewals in the months ahead.”

Former NBA player Jalen Rose and former NFL stars Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Young were also among the layoffs, according to reports. Friday’s are the latest cuts at ESPN this year after prominent contributors Chris Chelios, a former NHL star, former NFL player Rob Ninkovich and long-time SportsCenter host Neil Everett did not have their contracts renewed in recent weeks.

ESPN also canceled its national morning radio show with Max Kellerman, Johnson and Jay Williams, which was first reported by the New York Post.

Those laid off Friday will still have their contracts paid in full. By laying the employees off now, ESPN can clear their salaries from the fiscal year 2024 books, an accounting tactic that allows ESPN’s parent company, Disney, to deliver the cost savings that CEO Bob Iger promised to Wall Street.

Van Gundy, 61, has been calling the NBA Finals for ESPN and ABC since 2017. The former head coach of the New York Knicks was known for insightful commentary and a willingness to both criticize players and tweak the NBA. Rose, part of Michigan’s fabled Fab Five and a 13-year NBA veteran, was a regular contributor across the network’s NBA coverage.

Young, a Hall of Fame quarterback, spent two decades as an analyst for the network. Kolber is such a sports-television mainstay she helped inspire the name of an early sports blog, Kissing Suzy Kolber.

Friday marked the third wave of layoffs at ESPN this year, with the first two focused on the executive ranks at the company, including John Dahl, executive producer of the hit docuseries “The Last Dance.”

The cuts are part of a larger effort to reduce costs at Disney under the orders of Iger. He returned to helm the company in November after a 2½-year absence and said he would cut or not fill 7,000 jobs. His return to Disney came after the company reported $1.5 billion in operating losses in the fourth quarter of last year on streaming service Disney Plus, which includes ESPN’s streaming offering, ESPN Plus.

The economics of streaming have been difficult for Disney and ESPN, as they try to build a bridge to a direct-to-consumer future to buttress ESPN’s cable operations. The network has cut more than 1,000 jobs, including notable rounds of layoffs in 2015 and 2017, as it shed cable subscribers over the last decade.

Combined with contracts that haven’t been renewed and personalities that have signed elsewhere, the notable talent that has left the network during that period is significant, including Jemele Hill, Kate Fagan, Mike Golic, Trey Wingo, Matthew Berry, Dan LeBatard and Kenny Mayne.

Instead, the company has transitioned to one built around live sports and a smaller number of mega-stars like Stephen A. Smith (who reportedly earns more than $10 million annually), insider reporters Adrian Wojnarowski and Adam Schefter (reportedly between $5 and $10 million) and Monday Night Football commentators Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (more than $30 million together, according to people with knowledge of their deals). In May, ESPN signed Pat McAfee to a lucrative multi-year deal likely worth more than $10 million a year.

Friday’s layoffs have hung over the company for months. Even as late as last week, multiple people said the list of cuts had not been finalized, as ESPN sought to meet the thresholds set by Iger. At a town hall Tuesday with head of content Burke Magnus, one employee said they left with the impression that there would be no more outright layoffs after this round, but there was no discussion of un-renewed contracts.

“It’s important for you to know that these are difficult decisions, involving individuals who have had tremendous impact on our company,” Friday’s memo said. “They are based more on overall efficiency than merit, and we believe they will help us meet our financial targets and ensure future growth.”

Ben Strauss covers sports and media for The Washington Post.

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