In a broad cost-cutting move that shocked the sports industry, ESPN laid off many of its on-air personalities on Wednesday, including a reporter who covered the Longhorns.
However, UT officials indicated there has been no change with the university’s relationship with ESPN, and it’s unlikely the sweeping cuts will affect the Longhorn Network.
“Absolutely not,” said Jeff Orth, UT’s associate athletic director for strategic relations. “ESPN is a valued partner of ours and we’re excited to continue to work with them to deliver content to Texas fans.”
LHN experienced cutbacks last year and ceased production of a nightly highlight show. A network spokesman told the American-Statesman at the time that ESPN would shift its resources more to live on-campus sporting events.
UT receives about $15 million annually from ESPN simply for the right to broadcast the network. The contract runs through 2031. The network is obligated to air 175 live events each academic year.
Still, ESPN’s financial health was in focus after news started leaking on Twitter that some of the network’s top reporters were suddenly out of jobs. That included longtime NFL reporter Ed Werder, who got the call one day before the start of the NFL draft.
“After 17 years reporting on #NFL, I’ve been informed that I’m being laid off by ESPN effective immediately. I have no plans to retire,” Werder tweeted.
Max Olson, who covered UT football, confirmed to the Statesman he was one of many reporters who were let go.
“ESPN took a chance on me as a 21-year-old right out of college. This definitely hurts, but I’m so grateful for the incredible opportunity,” Olson wrote on Twitter. “I hate that so many terrific ESPN colleagues received the same bad news today. Don’t know what my future holds. But it’ll all work out.”
Multiple other college writers were let go, regardless of how much time still remains on their contracts. Brett McMurphy (national college football), David Ching (SEC), Brian Bennett (Big Ten), Ted Miller (Pac-12), C.L. Brown (college basketball) and Jeremy Crabtree (recruiting) were just some of those who posted messages on their Twitter accounts.
ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz declined to comment and referred reporters to a message posted by network president John Skipper.
“A necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions,” Skipper wrote in a noted posted on ESPN’s website.
“Our objective in all we do is to best serve fans and their changing consumption habits while still maintaining an unparalleled and diverse talent roster that resonates with fans across all our platforms,” he added.
It’s those “changing consumption habits” that are creating huge headaches for the network and its parent company, Disney. It’s well documented that ESPN is losing thousands of subscribers a day due to cord cutting. The network also paid exorbitant amounts in rights fees to carry NFL, NBA games and the College Football Playoff.
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