Disney CEO Bob Iger finally addressed the ESPN layoffs

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

As you may have heard by now, ESPN laid off more than 100 employees last month, most of them “on-air talent,” a label the company uses for TV personalities, radio hosts, and writers. The company had bigger rounds of layoffs in 2015 and in 2013, when it cut about 300 people each time, but this round was more painful and more publicly scrutinized than any before it, since the faces were recognizable to TV viewers and sports fans.

At the time of the layoffs, ESPN put out two public statements, but parent company Disney did not make any comment—until now.

On Disney’s Q2 2017 earnings call Tuesday afternoon, during the analyst Q&A portion, CEO Bob Iger addressed the ESPN cuts at length.

Bob Iger (Bloomberg)

First, Iger discussed the steps ESPN is taking to innovate and reinvent itself, and he focused on mobile video. That was when he mentioned ESPN making making “a number of moves already on the personnel front,” a still-veiled reference to the layoffs:

“I think we all know that in today’s world people are using their mobile devices to get sports scores, highlights, and information about sports more than they ever did. There’s nothing we can do to slow that down,” Iger said. “That said, [ESPN President] John Skipper and the ESPN team have made a number of moves already on the personnel front and will continue to, in terms of moving people around and making the best of the talent ESPN has… all with an eye toward improving our non-live sports programming numbers. We’re not sitting on our hands. The best thing we can possibly do is continue doing what we’re doing, which is continue to make the mobile experience great. By the way, the numbers are far better than any competitor in the space. We’ve taken advantage of that, and we believe the money will follow.”

Only minutes later, in response to another question about ESPN, Iger addressed the cuts more overtly. He said that although he doesn’t “take it lightly,” 100 employees out of 8,000 total employees (prior to the cuts) is not a large number:

“A lot has been said about cost reductions at ESPN. We’re managing that business efficiently. We always have, we always will. Obviously, there’s been a greater need to do it given challenges in the near term, but frankly what we’ve been doing, in terms of scale and size, is not that significant given that ESPN has 8,000 employees and we reduced by 100 employees. I don’t take it lightly but, the number gets these headlines… it wasn’t a particularly significant reduction.”

Disney does not break out financials for ESPN alone, but includes ESPN in its cable networks division. Revenues for that division grew 3% in Q2 to $4.1 billion, but profit fell 3% to $1.8 billion, “due to a decrease at ESPN.” ESPN has lost more than 10 million subscribers since 2013.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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