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Widespread Disney layoffs aren’t quite as well underway at ESPN as they are in other parts of the empire, but the list of departures includes at least one high-profile executive: ESPN+ general manager Russell Wolfe.
The EVP’s exit was reported by several media outlets and then confirmed to deadline by a person familiar with the cuts, whose second wave began to unfold on Monday and will continue through Thursday. Disney plans to lay off about 7,000 workers, roughly 3% of its global workforce, seeking $5.5 billion in cost savings. ESPN is expected to cut fewer than 100 workers during this round.
Wolfe was promoted to his current position in 2018, the same year ESPN+ launched. The service has now ended in 2022 with 24.9 million subscribers. In a note to his colleagues, Wolfe said he would be leaving in July, capping a 23-year spell at the network. Prior to running ESPN+, Wolfe rose through the international ranks at ESPN, becoming Executive Vice President and Managing Director.
A few dozen more ESPNers will be part of the next wave of cuts right before the summer, according to an insider, and then contract renewal (or not) decisions will follow for the talent. On-air notables like Stephen A. Smith, Joe Buck, and Chris Fowler, among others, aren’t going anywhere but due to changes sweeping the world of sports and the entire media business, a number of well-known personalities will be on the cut list.
From a high point of nearly 100 million American households a decade ago, ESPN’s pay-TV penetration has fallen to 74 million, and the accompanying decline in carriage revenue has changed the economics of the main network and its affiliate channels. ESPN+ has steadily added straight live events, but is still seen as a complement to the main syndicated version of ESPN. As they manage the transition from linear to live, ESPN and Disney still have multibillion-dollar decisions to make about renewing core rights to sports like the NBA, whose current contract expires in 2025.
Besides Wolff, another name featured in ESPN’s latest cut is Mike Soltys, vice president and 43-year veteran of the company. Along with farewell messages to Dick Vitale and his other Twitter colleagues, Soltis changed views in acknowledging his departure by tweeting a quote Sports Business Journal a report. My final statement as an ESPN spokesperson: “An amazing 43 years.” amazing. We wish him well.”
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