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ESPN Layoffs Include Jeff Van Gundy, Keyshawn Johnson, Max Kellerman Among Others

“Given the current environment, ESPN has determined it necessary to identify some additional cost savings in the area of public-facing commentator salaries, and that process has begun.”

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The day that we have been counting down to in the sports media world has arrived. As first reported by Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, ESPN is set to make dramatic reductions to its on-air staff Friday.

“Given the current environment, ESPN has determined it necessary to identify some additional cost savings in the area of public-facing commentator salaries, and that process has begun,” the company said in a statement. “This exercise will include a small group of job cuts in the short-term and an ongoing focus on managing costs when we negotiate individual contract renewals in the months ahead. This is an extremely challenging process, involving individuals who have had tremendous impact on our company. These difficult decisions, based more on overall efficiency than merit, will help us meet our financial targets and ensure future growth.”

Jeff Van Gundy is the first big name to be confirmed as out at the company. He had been at ESPN for 16 years calling NBA games. Van Gundy just finished calling the NBA Finals alongside Mike Breen and Mark Jackson, and concludes his ESPN career just short of calling 100 Finals matchups. The basketball color commentator and former NBA head coach with the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets had one year remaining on his contract, and he declined to comment on the move when reached by The Athletic. ESPN is expected to replace him on its lead NBA commentary team with an internal candidate. JJ Redick, Doris Burke and Richard Jefferson are reportedly the most likely candidates to fill the coveted role.

Layoffs continued Friday morning when the network let go of NBA Countdown analyst Jalen Rose. Before focusing on the signature pregame show, Rose’s daily show, Jalen & Jacoby, ended after 11 years on the air. While he was still playing in the NBA, Rose began contributing to FOX Sports Net on the Best Damn Sports Show Period and also created his own production company, Three Tier Entertainment. It remains to be seen whether the NBA on ESPN will seek to replace Rose on NBA Countdown after he was part of the revamped show featuring Mike Greenberg, Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon.

The network’s NBA coverage took an additional hit with the departure of Nick Friedell from the outlet. Friedell was a venerated reporter for the outlet and helped launch the ESPNChicago.com platform. Before the 2018-19 season, his reporting shifted towards the Golden State Warriors dynasty, and he has since covered the NBA at a national scale. While with the network, he contributed to myriad programming, including NBA Today, Outside the Lines and SportsCenter.

The network’s football coverage took a hit with the layoffs of talent as well. Suzy Kolber is moving on from the network after nearly three decades in Bristol. The Monday Night Countdown host and member of the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame member confirmed on Twitter that she was among the network personalities let go. In her message, she expressed her gratitude for her time at ESPN and being a woman in sports media.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Steve Young was laid off from the network as well, marking another loss for the Monday Night Countdown crew. Young joined ESPN in 2000 and worked as an analyst on four Super Bowl pregame shows on ABC. Additionally, he has contributed to live game broadcasts during the network’s season-opening doubleheaders and appeared on its Super Bowl coverage.

NFL Draft expert Todd McShay has been cut by the network, seemingly marking a period of transition of coverage for the marquee event. McShay made his ESPN debut in 2014 as a college football analyst and had previously contributed to a wide array of its platforms. Additionally, he served as the director of college football scouting for ESPN’s partner, Scouts, Inc. The impact McShay’s dismissal will have on the partnership remains to be seen.

ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown‘s Matt Hasselbeck was eliminated by the network, with the news becoming public early Friday afternoon. Hasselbeck was previously a quarterback in the National Football League and made the transition on the same day he retired from the sport. ESPN utilized him on coverage of the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, along with providing analysis on ESPN Radio, NFL Live and SportsCenter. Matt’s brother, Tim, currently works as a football analyst for ESPN and the ACC Network.

College football coverage felt the impact of the talent layoffs with the departure of college football analyst David Pollack. Formerly a member of the University of Georgia football team and an NFL linebacker, Pollack had been with ESPN since 2009 and on College GameDay since 2011. Throughout his time with the network, he worked as an analyst on the network’s Thursday Night College Football broadcast and also co-hosted Palmer & Pollack on ESPNU. Prior to joining ESPN, Pollack was a sports radio host at 790 The Zone in Atlanta, Ga. and worked on studio coverage for CBS Sports.

News leaked last week that ESPN Radio is ending its morning show, Keyshawn, JWill and Max. While Jay Williams’ contract is set to expire this fall, Friday news broke that Keyshawn Johnson and Max Kellerman had both been let go. Johnson made regular appearances on NFL Live and First Take. Kellerman had been hosting a show called This Just In, which was expected to be cancelled to make room for Pat McAfee’s show this fall.

ESPN Radio also lost Jason Fitz to the layoffs, who worked on Fitz & Harry with Harry Douglas since 2013. Before working with Douglas, Fitz previously hosted an ESPN Radio program with ESPN personality and espnW writer Sarah Spain. In addition to his roles on radio, Fitz made contributions to ESPN’s digital coverage as a host of SportsCenter on Snapchat and First Take, Your Take.

College basketball coverage took a hit too. LaPhonso Ellis is out after fourteen years in Bristol. Ellis was one of the network’s most prominent men’s college hoops analysts, having been a part of College GameDay since the 2009-2010 season.

On the football side, College GameDay correspondent and reporter Gene Wojciechowski announced his exit from the network and expressed his gratitude for his colleagues throughout his 25-and-a-half years working for the company. Before joining ESPN, Wojciechowski worked for the Chicago Tribune and reported on national college football and basketball. While working for ESPN, he was a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a national columnist for ESPN.com where he reported on college football, golf and various other sports.

Aside from Ellis, ACC Huddle host and college basketball analyst Jordan Cornette was dismissed from the network. While with the “Worldwide Leader,” Cornette augmented his versatility by working both in studio and on site for matchups. His tenure with the network began in 2018 after co-hosting Kap & Co. on ESPN 1000 in Chicago.

Staff writer Joon Lee took to Twitter to announce that he is out. Lee arrived at ESPN nearly four years ago after a stint at Bleacher Report, and primarily contributed to the network’s baseball coverage. Digital entities at the network utilized Lee to report news and produce longform feature content, including an examination on women in the sport and the unwritten rules of the game. While he does not know his next move, it should be noted that Lee has experience writing for newspapers, such as The Washington Post and Boston Herald.

Ashley Brewer has also been terminated by the network – the first SportsCenter-related departure announced on Friday. The versatile talent, based in Los Angeles, Calif., had been used in a variety of ways across both ABC and ESPN. Brewer inked a new contract with ESPN two years ago, a career milestone that started when she worked as a college football sideline reporter in Tucson, Ariz.

Some cuts were known before Friday, trickling out in recent weeks as the network prepared for the deluge of difficult decisions.

Football analyst Rob Ninkovich and hockey analyst Chris Chelios have already been let go. Longtime SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett chose to leave rather than take a reduced salary. ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro reportedly chose to go forward with this extra round of layoffs, which goes beyond The Walt Disney Company mandate of 7,000 employees to slash $5.5 billion in costs.

Since it is considered to be its own distinct business by The Walt Disney Company under reorganization from chief executive officer Bob Iger, ESPN will report its own financial metrics for the first time this November. According to sources, the numbers are expected to be impressive, but the layoffs are representative of prudence to ensure sustained success in the rapidly evolving media ecosystem. The company is also reportedly developing a direct-to-consumer option through “Project Flagship,” and is expected to arrive in 2025 or 2026.

Barrett Sports Media will not speculate on who is and is not in trouble. We will keep a running list throughout the day of who has been let go as those reports become public.

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MLB at Rickwood Field Game Averages 2.346 Million Viewers on FOX

The telecast of the game peaked with 2.559 million viewers in the quarter-hour spanning from 8:45 to 9 p.m. EST.

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MLB at Rickwood Field Logo
Courtesy: Major League Baseball

The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals played from Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala. on Thursday night, marking the first time that the ballpark hosted a regular-season Major League Baseball game. The historic event paid tribute to the Negro Leagues and the life of Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays, who passed away peacefully on Tuesday at the age of 93. FOX Sports broadcast the game and attained its best performance for a Thursday night MLB regular season telecast since September 2022, averaging 2.346 million viewers for the event. Viewership data for the game is provided by Nielsen Media Research and Adobe Analytics.

The telecast of the game peaked with 2.559 million viewers in the quarter-hour spanning from 8:45 to 9 p.m. EST. Compared to last year’s regular season average for MLB telecasts on FOX, the contest was up 25%. Thursday night games on FOX averaged 1.665 million viewers last year, rendering the game from Rickwood Field an increase of 41%. The San Francisco, Calif. designated market area posted a 3.9 rating and 18 share for the game, the best for an MLB telecast on any network in the 2024 season in the area. Additionally, the St. Louis, Mo. designated market area had a 9.4 rating and 29 share for the game, also its best performance for an MLB telecast on any network amid the current season.

The broadcast of the game on FOX Sports featured play-by-play announcer Joe Davis, analyst John Smoltz and reporters Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci. During the FOX MLB pregame show, various special guests joined host Kevin Burkhardt and analysts Álex Rodríguez, David Ortiz and Derek Jeter, including Reggie Jackson, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. Within the game, Rosenthal interviewed former Birmingham Black Barons pitcher Rev. Bill Greason, along with former Indianapolis Clowns second baseman Reggie Howard. FOX Sports broadcast half an inning of the game in black and white as well, replicating how baseball telecasts looked in 1954.

FOX Sports is currently in the third year of its seven-year media rights deal with Major League Baseball and will broadcast the MLB All-Star Game next month from Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. The network will also present the World Series for the 25th consecutive year this October featuring the American League and National League Champions.

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ESPN Announces Coverage Plans for Inaugural Two-Day NBA Draft

The ESPN team will feature Malika Andrews, Andraya Carter, Jay Bilas and Richard Jefferson. ABC will have Kevin Negandhi hosting alongside Stephen A. Smith and Bob Myers.

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Logo for ESPN and the 2024 NBA Draft

The NBA is set to debut a new format for its draft. Instead of doing both rounds in one night, this year will be the first time the league has used a two-day format with night one coming up on Wednesday, June 26 followed by night two on Thursday June 27. Television coverage will be provided by ESPN and ABC.

On Wednesday, ESPN will begin with NBA Today starting at 3 p.m. ET, which will be hosted by Christine Williamson, Kendrick Perkins, Austin Rivers and CJ McCollum. They will be followed by a Red Carpet Special at 5 p.m. ET with Cassidy Hubbarth, Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson. Coverage of the draft begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN and at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

The ESPN team will feature Malika Andrews, Andraya Carter, Jay Bilas and Richard Jefferson. ABC will have Kevin Negandhi hosting alongside Stephen A. Smith and Bob Myers.

ESPN reporters and insiders Monica McNutt, Adrian Wojnarowski, Bobby Marks and Jonathan Givony are set to appear on both broadcasts.

For Round 2 on Thursday, ESPN will again start with NBA Today at 3 p.m. ET with Christine Williamson, Kendrick Perkins, Austin Rivers and Tim Legler. That will be followed by coverage of the draft beginning at 4 p.m. ET with Malika Andrews, Stephen A. Smith, Bob Myers, Adrian Wojnarowski, Bobby Marks and Jonathan Givony.

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Michael Phelps Joining NBCUniversal Coverage of Olympic Games Paris 2024

“With his ability to analyze and entertain, our viewers are in for another gold-medal performance.”

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Michael Phelps
Courtesy: NBC Olympics & Paralympics on X

Michael Phelps, the 23-time Olympic gold medalist who is the most-decorated Olympic athlete of all time, will be joining NBCUniversal for coverage of the Olympic Games Paris 2024 this summer. Phelps returns to the coverage after being part of the broadcast during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and will provide his commentary and analysis on prime time and daytime shows in Paris on NBC and Peacock.

Additionally, he will join Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines in the broadcast booth for select swimming competition telecasts from the París La Défense Arena, along with correspondent/analyst Elizabeth Beisel and reporter Melissa Stark. Phelps will return to NBC and Peacock on Friday night broadcasting coverage of the U.S. Olympic Trials-Swimming from Indianapolis, Ind. beginning at 8 p.m. EST/PST.

“We are excited to have Michael return to our coverage across both daytime and primetime, and of course, the place where no one knows more about winning – at the pool,” Molly Solomon, executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production, said in a statement. “With his ability to analyze and entertain, our viewers are in for another gold-medal performance.”

NBC has been televising coverage throughout the week live in prime time leading up to the Olympic games. The swimming trials are averaging 3.2 million viewers in prime time across NBC and Peacock, which is up 20% from the trials for the Olympic Games three years ago. The event is taking place from Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Indianapolis Colts, and has featured accomplished swimmers such as Katie Ledecky, Gretchen Walsh and Regan Smith. Moreover, the prime time broadcast of the diving competition on Monday and Tuesday from Knoxville, Tenn. is averaging 2.9 million viewers, a 39% rise from three years ago.

The International Olympic Committee granted NBCUniversal the U.S. media rights for the Olympic Games through 2032 for $7.65 billion. NBCUniversal has been the exclusive broadcast home of the Summer Olympic Games in the United States since 1988 when it produced 179.5 hours of broadcast coverage. The company is scheduled to broadcast the Olympic Games from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy in 2026, Los Angeles, Calif. in 2028 and Brisbane, Australia in 2032, along with the 2030 Winter Olympic Games from a location to be determined.

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