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Pandemic Expedites ESPN Employee Purge, Hundreds Laid Off

A view of the logo during ESPN The Party on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco.

Sports monolith ESPN informed employees that pandemic-related layoffs are coming Thursday morning. In a company memo obtained by NPR, Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and sports content, revealed that 300 people will be laid off. Additionally, 200 open positions will be eliminated, totaling a 10% workforce reduction worldwide.

"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," Pitaro said in the memo. "The pandemic's significant impact on our business clearly accelerated those forward-looking discussions."

ESPN made efforts to avoid terminations by reducing executive and talent salaries, budget cuts and furloughs. The initiatives, however, fell short.

ESPN, which was purchased by Walt Disney Company in 1996, has been making efforts to transition to a direct-to-consumer business strategy; streaming services.

ESPN+, which launched in April 2018, has 8.5 million subscribers and provides fans with live events as well as content not available on cable.

Pitaro told staff that ESPN had reached "an inflection point" and that business-minded decisions needed to be made.

"Building a successful future in a changing world means facing hard choices," the memo read. "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."

It's unclear what staff members would be let go, but Pitaro's memo hinted it would not be limited to low-level employees.

"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," the memo read.

This round of layoffs is not the first in recent memory. In 2017, ESPN let over 200 employees go, including on-air talent and journalists.

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