Bristol's ESPN Axes On-Air Talent

Apr 26, 2017

Bristol-based sports media giant ESPN has announced major layoffs. The company said the cuts are linked to changes in how fans want to watch sports. 

These cuts, expected to be around 100 staff, are particularly high profile because they involve well known names on air; anchors, analysts, reporters and play-by-play announcers.

Among those who confirmed Wednesday they’ve been let go are NFL reporter Ed Werder, radio host Danny Kanell, Dana O’Neill who covers college basketball, and hockey reporter Scott Burnside.

The number of cable subscribers to ESPN, always its mainstay, has dropped by more than ten percent in the last three years, as fans migrate to digital and mobile content. The company said it wants to respond to that shift by putting more resources into its digital strategy.

The company declined requests for comment, but published a message from president John Skipper on its website.

In it he says to employees, "a necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions. Our content strategy – primarily illustrated in recent months by melding distinct, personality-driven SportsCenter TV editions and digital-only efforts with our biggest sub-brand – still needs to go further, faster… and as always, must be efficient and nimble."

Author James Andrew Miller wrote a best-selling book on ESPN. He said he's hearing a lot of surprise from within the company and from fans about the people who are being let go.

But he's not sure if ultimately there's a big downside for ESPN.

"I don't think they're going to march with pitchforks on Bristol," he told WNPR. "Some fans are going to be upset. Whether or not they decide to stop watching ESPN or stop connecting with ESPN online I think is probably much more of a remote possibility."

The network last made major layoffs in 2015, when it axed 300 positions, mostly back room staff.

Any elimination of jobs in Bristol causes raised eyebrows in Hartford because of state incentives that ESPN has received under the First Five program.

The company recently testified in a public hearing that it’s actually increased employment in the state, but the types of jobs it needs to fill are changing.