ESPN talent layoffs are expected toward the end of June, The Post has learned.
A source said the exact timing is subject to change, calling the situation “fluid.” However, ESPN executives are in the process of going over names of potential layoffs, and people are being moved on and off the list.
The people who are likely in the most trouble are the ones who make a lot and don’t work that much.
We previously have mentioned the “Monday Night Football” pregame crew: Longtime ESPNers, such as Suzy Kolber and Steve Young, have earned large salaries, but have cut down their time on the air over the years.
They could survive the cuts, but they fit the criteria that ESPN execs are looking at. While the layoff process is expected to start at the end of the month, ESPN also is planning to become tougher in contract negotiations, especially with folks who are making millions and aren’t necessarily moving the needle.
ESPN already has laid off off-air people in two separate rounds as part of the 7,000 jobs that Disney CEO Bob Iger ordered eliminated.
ESPN declined comment.
Matt Cassel will be a studio analyst for NBC’s Big Ten coverage, The Post has learned. Cassel’s story is well-known, but it is pretty incredible that he is covering the college game because he never threw a touchdown at USC and completed a total of 33 passes as a college quarterback. Of course, he went on to have a nice NFL career. … With MLB taking over San Diego Padres’ local broadcast rights, one option that could present itself is selling games within ESPN+, according to sources. With the Padres’ scenario, for example, if ESPN+ were to house the games, it could take a small cut from the $19.99 per month for any Padres subscription sold through the platform. For RSNs, ESPN+ could use geofencing, allowing it to limit sales to the local markets. If the Yankees wanted to make YES available on ESPN+ to increase distribution, then ESPN could take a small cut and would have the ability to sell in the YES territory — it is not available nationally. This idea is one possible avenue MLB could pursue as the non-major-market RSN market disintegrates with Diamond Sports’ bankruptcy and RSNs develop their own direct-to-consumer products. That said, Amazon and Apple presumably could be interested in the same format as ESPN+. CNBC’s Alex Sherman has previously mentioned ESPN trying to position itself as a one-stop shop for game distribution.
… Hot taking isn’t easy. Anyone can do it, but to be able to draw people to watch you get all heated is a skill. That is why, as first reported by The Post’s Ryan Glasspiegel, Shannon Sharpe’s anticipated departure from Skip Bayless’ “Undisputed” is a big loss. Sharpe, 54, has been ascending, making waves and doing the most important thing for a hot-taker — getting attention. Now, Bayless, 71, will need a new partner. It would be a mistake if FS1 went closer-by-committee, as ESPN’s “First Take” has done successfully alongside Stephen A. Smith. First off, FS1 isn’t ESPN. Second, ESPN put together a really strong crew of debaters, from Chris Russo to Marcus Spears to many others. Smith is also the biggest talker in the game right now. Bayless has not lost his fastball, but a Bayless-versus-the-world format wouldn’t work either. He still can say outlandish things with the best of them. It is very en vogue to rip him. I have. Way back when, “Cold Pizza” (which became “First Take”) was planning on cutting Bayless’ time in half, and I wrote that the show just needed to work on the other half. That said, FS1 doesn’t pay Bayless $8 million per year because he doesn’t bring attention. He works hard and has a 12-year-old’s dedication to sports. The whole take game is a ridiculous way to make a living (second only to covering the inanity), and we don’t know fully yet what is going on behind the scenes, but on the air, Sharpe is a loss for FS1 and for Bayless.
… If ESPN makes a change from Kolber as the MNF pregame host, Laura Rutledge is probably the favorite to replace her. Rutledge is great, but we would consider Steve Levy for the job. Levy is a tremendous host. … Last Tuesday, Apple had a conference call with senior VP Eddy Cue. In the approximately three minutes he spoke, Cue said the first year of the company’s MLS deal is going great and exceeding expectations. Cue did not say what the original expectations were or take questions, nor did Apple provide any metrics. … If you love baseball, believe in good people and would like to help find a cure for ALS, we recommend purchasing a Langs Star, which represents MLB commentator Sarah Langs’ fight. If you don’t know Langs’ story, I had the honor to tell it last year in this feature.
With Pat McAfee’s five-year, around $85 million deal, there has been a lot of talk about whether he is selling out and whether ESPN will ruin him.
McAfee’s style is misinterpreted by people who don’t watch or listen to the program and perhaps by those who do. Let’s take a look:
1. We have been on record saying that edgy doesn’t really work at ESPN, but McAfee is not really edgy. He swears a lot.
2. McAfee is pretty apolitical, and is more positive than negative on his show. Except for the swearing, he doesn’t work off-color.
He also seems to be humble enough that if he does say something that might be considered wrong, he listens, will admit it and apologize. So I’m not sure what he is changing for Mickey Mouse beside his sailor mouth.
3. This brings us to the headline of managing McAfee. ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro and the network’s head of content, Burke Magnus, have told McAfee they will be hands-off, according to sources. It is a partnership and McAfee will dip into ESPN’s resources, but ESPN is not looking to change the program. Pitaro has been a big proponent of giving creative platforms to former athletes (see: Manning, Peyton) and letting them run with it.
Meanwhile, in 2017, Magnus was one of the chiefs behind “Barstool Van Talk,” which lasted just one episode before then-ESPN head honcho John Skipper, who had greenlit the show, canceled Van Talk under internal pressure over Dave Portnoy’s company being involved. It was one of Skipper’s oddest management sequences.
Anyway, if “Barstool Van Talk” had proceeded, the plan was to let Dan Katz and Eric Sollenberger of “Pardon My Take,” who hosted Van Talk, just do their thing.
ESPN plans to leave McAfee alone in terms of the creative, but help with all the resources that McAfee spoke glowingly about when we DM’d the other day for my column.
4. About the swearing: It is fine on YouTube, but is not fine on daytime cable, even if Michael Jordan did it at night during his documentary. McAfee already has agreed to say the f-word less, and when he and his crew slips, there will be bleeps on TV. That will be the biggest change. If viewers were only watching to hear the swear word, there would be no around $85 million deal.
Clicker Book Club
Our book reviewer, Papa Clicker Herb Marchand, was a big fan of Chris Cillizza’s “Power Players: Sports, Politics and the American Presidency,” which delves into how commanders in chief from Eisenhower to Biden have been involved in sports and have used them to their political advantage. From horseshoes to tennis to running, this is a book for people who like sports and politics. Papa Clicker gives it 4.45 out of 5 clickers.
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