Disney confirms plan to lay off 300 at ESPN

ESPN confirmed today that will lay off about 300 employees, or about 4 percent of its 8,000-member workforce.

"Beginning today, we will be enacting a number of organizational changes at ESPN to better support our future goals -- a process that will include the elimination of a number of positions, impacting friends and colleagues across the organization," said John Skipper, ESPN president and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, in a memo to staff. 

"We carefully considered and deliberated alternatives before making each decision," Skipper added. "The people who will be leaving us have been part of ESPN's success, and they have our respect and appreciation for their contributions.  We will be as supportive as we can during this transition, including providing a minimum of 60-days notice, a severance package reflective of their years of service, and outplacement benefits to help them find future employment."

The cuts follow Disney's announcement in August that ESPN would not reach its earnings forecast for the fiscal year, largely because of subscriber losses. Disney didn't reveal how many pay-TV customers had been lost, but Nielsen reported over the summer that the national sports network had lost around 3.2 million subs in a little over a year. 

ESPN commands far and away the highest carriage fees in the pay-TV business, averaging $6.61 per subscriber. However, it has long-term commitments to sports leagues including the NFL and NBA that total $44.2 billion, a sports programming debt that is second only to one owed by 21st Century Fox.

Based in Bristol, Conn., ESPN employs nearly 8,000 workers.

Word of the layoffs comes as Vanity Fair published an expose on the contentious departure of former ESPN personality Bill Simmons to HBO. 

ESPN executives described Simmons as a polarizing figure, who fostered an "us-versus-the-broader-company" culture within the L.A. offices of Grantland, the long-form digital journalism he started at ESPN in 2011. 

Simmons' camp, meanwhile, said ESPN's corporate culture doesn't know how to nurture and curate true talent.

For more:
- read this ESPN memo
- read this Bloomberg story
- read this Vanity Fair story

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