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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.

Retail stock traders power stunning comeback after deep selloff

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Stocks staged a Patrick Mahomes-esque comeback Monday, after plunging for the first few hours of trading.

Why it matters: The remarkable recovery suggests that retail traders who upended markets over the last year — most notably during the GameStop bonanza that occurred almost exactly a year ago — continue to be powerful influence in the markets.

America can't quit polarizing politicians

Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

New data finds that the nation's most polarizing politicians are often the ones that garner the most attention online.

Why it matters: Online engagement helps politicians build a bigger national profile and more fundraising power, incentivizing them be more outrageous, more polarizing and more divisive.