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Report: Few ESPN on-air personalities will be safe during upcoming layoffs

03.31.17 at 9:06 am ET
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ESPN has been hemorrhaging subscribers in recent years. (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

ESPN has been hemorrhaging subscribers in recent years. (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

ESPN is reportedly going to undergo massive layoffs this year. And according to one of the most prominent media reporters in the business, few on-air personalities are safe.

In an appearance on Sports Illustrated’s media podcast with Richard Deitsch, James Andrew Miller, who authored “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” said the network will likely cut 40-50 employees in order to trim tens of millions of dollars from its payroll. He then mapped out what he thinks will be ESPN’s new weekday lineup, including a re-airing of Neil Everett and Stan Verrett’s west coast “SportsCenter” at 6:00 a.m. EST followed by a variety show with Mike Greenberg from 7-10 a.m. Miller said he expects Bomani Jones and Pablo Torres to get their own program as well.

Under this scenario, Miller says “First Take,” “SC6 with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith” and the station’s block of afternoon shows will stay in place. He also expects Scott Van Pelt’s solo “SportsCenter” to still air at midnight following live sports coverage.

“If you’re ESPN talent and you’re looking at a schedule that’s something like that, based on the commitments they’ve made, if you’re not on that, then you’re starting to feel a little shaky,” Miller said. “That’s not to say everyone else is gone, but I think those are the people that should take a deep breath, and those are the people that should feel immune.”

Deitsch, citing his own sources at ESPN, said “SportsCenter” anchors who haven’t been pegged as faces of the franchise –– such as Van Pelt, Everett and Verrett –– should start figuring out where they stand in the station’s hierarchy.

“If you are part of the SportsCenter unit right now but not one of the special talents where management has tapped on the shoulder and given the golden ticket, if I were one of those people I would be talking to my agent and my representation about how management thinks of me,” he said.

One notable ESPN personality who could be on his way out is anchor John Buccigross, whose contract expires later this year. The 20-year network veteran told Sporting News recently he wants to stay at the WorldWide Leader, but is realistic about the current business climate. Disney, ESPN’s parent company, reported lower-than-anticipated first quarter earnings last month –– partially due to the network’s decreased revenue base. ESPN has lost roughly 12 million subscribers since 2011.

With ESPN now paying $3.3 billion annually to broadcast the NFL and NBA alone, it looks like the network is going to have to prioritize retaining big-ticketed sports rights over keeping some of its most prominent personalities. The days of being able to do both appear to be over.

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