ESPN is laying off employees in a cost-saving move that will affect more than 100 people in Bristol and more elsewhere, according to multiple sources, although the company did not report the size of the cutback.
Layoffs mostly happened Tuesday but were expected to continue for some employees Wednesday, sources said.
“We are implementing changes across the company to enhance our continued growth while smartly managing costs. While difficult, we are confident that it will make us more competitive, innovative and productive,” the sports television giant said in a written statement released Tuesday.
That line about continued growth might seem like pure corporate speak and in some ways it is. But ESPN, with more than 4,000 people in Bristol, continues to recruit and fill many open jobs through its active hiring web site. That’s the nature of this type of cutback, and the hope is that some of the people laid off will land different jobs the company is filling.
Sources said the layoffs in Bristol alone would total more than 100. Worldwide, including targeted cuts by attrition as well as layoffs, the number of job reductions would be in the low hundreds according to sources and news reports. The net effect of 2013 hiring and job eliminations by attrition was not known.
A small office in Denver was closed as part of the cuts, sources said.
ESPN has grown consistently, reaching more than 7,000 employees worldwide, spokesman Mike Soltys said Tuesday — including part-time as well as full-time employees. The Bristol headcount is up from earlier this year, when the network said it had just under 4,000, and would take a break from adding new buildings after the current round of expansion was done.
Tuesday’s layoffs will not push ESPN out of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s First Five program, under which the network received a low-interest, partly forgivable loan of $17.5 million and as much as $8 million in grants and tax breaks in exchange for investing at least $25 million and adding at least 200 jobs in the five years starting August, 2011.
The layoffs are in areas and job descriptions “across the board,” Soltys said, adding that the reduction will include positions eliminated by attrition.
An employee at the sprawling Bristol campus said Tuesday there was no specific target of the cuts, and that the company was saying little to its staff. “It’s been kind of a general head-picking,” the employee said. “The number appears to be relatively small but the problem is, you don’t know where it’s going to hit…it’s been dotted throughout the day.”
ESPN is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co., which has also been eliminating jobs at its far-flung operations. Deadline Hollywood, an entertainment news site, said Tuesday that Disney eliminated 150 jobs at its film studio over the last several weeks.
Soltys and Andrew Doba, spokesman for Malloy, both emphasized that the layoff is not a threat to ESPN’s role as the dominant player in Connecticut’s burgeoning sports media industry.
“ESPN has been and will continue to be a key employer and economic driver for Connecticut. They remain well on their way to meeting their hiring goals as part of the First Five program,” Doba said.
Soltys declined to say how many full-time jobs the company had added since the deal was signed. But even during its expansions, ESPN has had significant layoffs in the past — one in 2001 and another in 2009.
The latest expansion includes ESPN’s largest and most expensive building, its Digital Center 2, which is on schedule to open next spring.
In all, the network has received more than $100 million in Connecticut state tax breaks in the last dozen years. Even before the First Five deal, ESPN carved out a permanent, $15 million-a-year tax break with the state under an expansion agreement reached in 2000. In addition, the network had received $50.3 million for digital infrastructure development through the state’s film and digital tax credit program as of last fall.
All those deals makes sense by the numbers as long as ESPN spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year in Connecticut. But the state’s grants, loans and tax breaks don’t exactly challenge the Bristol juggernaut to keep up its historic pace of job creation. That has helped fuel the debate about the public assistance — whether it’s needed to prod ESPN and other companies to hire.
Next year, for example, ESPN will add a Southeast Conference network with production facilities in Charlotte, N.C. — a state with a very aggressive corporate payola strategy. That project is likely to mean some added jobs in Bristol. How many? In this job environment, the state can’t afford to risk spurning its high-profile employers.
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