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ESPN's first-ever program, Sportscenter. Photo: Christopher Capozziello/Zuffa LLC via Getty

Approximately 300 people are being laid off at ESPN, sources tell Axios, and the company also plans to leave about 200 vacant positions unfilled, meaning the total workforce will be reduced by about 10%.

Between the lines: The cuts are attributed to the financial strain on the live sports and sports media industries due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an internal note from ESPN president James Pitaro to employees.

Details: ESPN was already looking at strategies to ensure success “amidst tremendous disruption in how fans consume sports” prior to the pandemic, Pitaro wrote in the memo obtained by Axios. But COVID-19 — which has cost sports leagues $300 million — accelerated the need to act.

  • Salary reductions, furloughs and budget cuts weren't enough, and it became clear that ESPN would need to serve sports fans in new ways, Pitaro noted.
  • These include bolstering direct-to-consumer business strategies, digital and "innovative" television experiences.

By the numbers: ESPN will have roughly 5,000 employees post-cuts.

Be smart: Aside from live sports struggling, TV advertising — which ESPN relies on — has also taken a hit due to the economy's strain on brands.

The big picture: The pandemic has taken a massive toll on ESPN's parent company Disney, which has seen revenues drop dramatically due to the closure of many of its parks and resorts, as well as movie theaters.

Go deeper

Dec 21, 2020 - Podcasts

Milwaukee Bucks owner: NBA teams will lose money this season

The NBA tips off tomorrow night, making it the first major U.S. sports league to play a second season amidst the pandemic. No bubble this time, but also not many in-person fans.

Axios Re:Cap talks with Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry on the business of basketball, how much he expects to lose this season and that massive new deal for two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Updated 12 mins ago - World

2 Americans accused of helping Ghosn escape in Japanese custody

Former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn during a news conference in Jounieh, Lebanon, last September. Photo: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Two Americans accused of helping former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn flee Japan in a box in 2019 were taken into Japanese custody after arriving at an airport near Tokyo Tuesday, per the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: The extradition of Michael Taylor, 60, a private security specialist and former Green Beret, and his son Peter Maxwell Taylor, 27, ends a months-long fight to remain in the U.S.

Rep. Rice demands Cuomo resign after 3rd woman accuses him of misconduct

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a February news conference in New York City. Photo: Seth Wenig/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) on Monday evening called for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to resign, after a third woman accused him of inappropriate behavior.

Driving the news: Anna Ruch, a former member of the Obama administration and the 2020 Biden campaign, told the New York Times Monday that Cuomo asked to kiss her at a New York City wedding reception in September 2019.