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ESPN lays off popular on-air talent in latest round of cuts

ESPN is cutting about 20 employees, including well-known network personalities such as former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy and former player Jalen Rose.

The sports network on Friday confirmed that it is cutting employees, but didn't specify the number of layoffs or the staffers who are losing their jobs. The cuts include include commentator Max Kellerman, Monday Night Football host Suzy Kolber and Keyshawn Johnson, a former NFL player turned analyst for the network, a source familiar with the details told CBS MoneyWatch.

The move is part of a larger effort at ESPN to save millions of dollars and meet financial goals executives set for this year. 

"Given the current environment, ESPN has determined it necessary to identify some additional cost savings in the area of public-facing commentator salaries, and that process has begun," the network said in a statement Friday. 

Kolber confirmed her departure from ESPN Friday on Twitter, describing the moment as "heartbreaking."

Other ESPN staffers who are in the round of cuts include: 

  • NFL Countdown analyst and former league quarterback Matt Hasselbeck
  • NFL draft expert Todd McShay
  • Former NBA player turned college basketball analyst LaPhonso Ellis
  • Anchor Ashley Brewer
  • ESPN radio host Jason Fitz
  • Major League Baseball reporter Joon Lee

ESPN said the personalities were let go as a cost-cutting measure.

"This exercise will include a small group of job cuts in the short-term and an ongoing focus on managing costs when we negotiate individual contract renewals in the months ahead," ESPN said. "This is an extremely challenging process, involving individuals who have had tremendous impact on our company."

Rose played in the NBA for six teams across 13 seasons and joined ESPN after retiring in 2007. Van Gundy coached two NBA teams during a 18-year career after playing basketball for high schools and colleges in New York. Keyshawn was a wide receiver for four NFL teams between 1996 and 2007. 

Rose, Johnson and Van Gundy had worked at ESPN for 16 years.

Van Gundy and the others still have time on their employment contracts with ESPN, but the network is looking for ways to pay out the remaining salaries at a reduced amount, according to the source familiar with the details. ESPN may release other on-air talent in the coming months by not renewing contracts, the person added.

The ESPN cuts come as parent company Disney slashes 7,000 employees in a move aimed at lowering costs by $5.5 billion. Disney is divided into three business segments: its entertainment division, which includes TV shows and streaming networks; ESPN, which encompasses its sports media operations; and parks, experiences and products, which includes DisneyWorld, Disney Cruise Line and merchandise. 

ESPN chose the high-profile cuts to avoid laying off a larger number of behind-the scenes employees, according to the source.

Disney's growth has dragged because of its enormous investment in streaming, including its flagship Disney+ platform. Although the company has quickly become a major player in the fiercely competitive online video business, amassing 235 million paid subscribers across Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, the high cost of producing content has left its streaming assets deep in the red. 

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