ESPN drops about 20 on-air personalities, including two names familiar to NBA viewers: games analyst Jeff Van Gundy and studio co-host Jalen Rose.
Keyshawn Johnson, a former NFL player who co-hosted ESPN Radio’s national morning show in one of many chapters of a 16-year run on ESPN, is also among those leaving. Max Kellerman, Johnson’s radio co-host and host of It’s just in and former longtime sparring partner of Stephen A. Smith on the Daily Morning TV show First take. Suzy Kolber, a 27-year ESPN veteran who recently hosted Monday night countdown, has also confirmed its release. While she described the end of her run as “heartbreaking” in a tweet, she also said she was “grateful”, noting that “the longevity of a woman in this business is something I am particularly proud”.
No More Deadline
A person familiar with the cuts told Deadline they were unrelated to Disney’s repeated layoffs implemented in recent months. These cuts saw a number of senior executives leave ESPN, but spared on-air talent. The source said many of those affected by the new cuts have contracts beyond June 30 and will be paid accordingly, but the separation will allow ESPN to avoid larger layoffs. The sports operation is now its own division of Disney, making its finances more visible.
Also among the new wave of departures are NHL analyst Chris Chelios, NFL analyst Rob Ninkovich and 23-year-old sports center anchor Neil Everett. These individual outings had been reported in recent weeks.
“Given the current environment, ESPN has determined that it is necessary to identify additional savings in the area of audience commentator salaries, and this process has begun,” ESPN said in a statement. “This exercise will include a small group of short-term job cuts and a continued focus on cost management as we negotiate individual contract renewals in the coming months. This is an extremely difficult process, involving people who have had a significant impact on our business.These tough decisions, based more on overall efficiency than merit, will help us achieve our financial goals and ensure our future growth.
ESPN has seen a sea change in its economic foundation due to the continued cord cutting. After peaking at around 100 million households a decade ago, the network said it will hit 74 million households in 2022, robbing it of significant distribution revenue. Outside of events like college football, the NFL, and the NBA, which saw strong ratings, linear tuning has declined for all traditional networks as more viewers turn to streaming .
Disney has confirmed that it is actively planning to offer a fuller version of ESPN as a standalone streaming option, but migrating it is a difficult process given the network’s agreements with pay-TV operators, leagues and other stakeholders. ESPN+, which launched in 2018, reached 25.3 million subscribers earlier this year, but does not offer a full lineup of news or live event programming.
At the same time it faces disruptions to its long-reliable sources of revenue, ESPN is also facing a steep rise in sports rights fees. Disney recently opted to re-sign with the NFL, expand its SEC college football footprint and reclaim the NHL, but faces a multi-billion dollar question about whether to re-sign with the NBA when that deal expires. after the 2024-25 season.
Van Gundy, the former head coach of the New York Knicks, is part of a longtime trio calling NBA games for ESPN, alongside Mike Breen and Mark Jackson. Rose, in addition to his NBA studio duties, previously hosted a daytime talk show Jalen & Jacoby.
Best of Deadline
Sign up for the Deadline newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Click here to read the full article.