I’m not sure exactly when Mickey Mouse turned into such a cutthroat rodent, but Disney-owned ESPN is pretty much destroying the vibe of the Happiest Place on Earth.
The mission of any business is to make money, I know. But the Disney image just doesn’t add up when ESPN cuts 300 workers while at the same time negotiating to spend billions of dollars for the NFL’s “Sunday Night Football” rights and muscle its way into the Super Bowl rotation.
“Prior to the pandemic, we had been deeply engaged in strategizing how best to position ESPN for future success amidst tremendous disruption in how fans consume sports . . .’’ ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro wrote in a company-wide memo obtained by several media outlets..
“In the short term, we enacted various steps like executive and talent salary reductions, furloughs and budget cuts, and we implemented innovative operations and production approaches, all in an effort to weather the COVID storm. We have, however, reached an inflection point.’’
It’s getting a little tiresome to see people use COVID for cover. ESPN has these massive layoffs every couple of years. The company got bloated and too full of itself, throwing huge amounts of money at long-term rights deals and not particularly noticing that people were cutting the cord, partly to get away from paying the huge cable costs that ESPN was responsible for.
Meanwhile, ESPN turned off half its audience by straying too far from sports and pushing a political stance, the whole Go Woke, Go Broke thing.
So now, Mickey and ABC/ESPN tell 300 workers, many with families, that it doesn’t have the money for them anymore, but it does have millions of dollars to throw at the NFL.
Who knows where sports are going after COVID? Ratings are down in most sports, though not as bad in the NFL as in other leagues.
You can argue that business is business, but Disney’s business is selling itself as a happy, wishing-upon-a-star place for families. This is just such a bad time at the height of nationwide angst during a pandemic, an economic collapse and an ugly political fight. All of that, and it’s also right before the Christmas shopping season.
Mickey is giving out pink slips with bows on them while gathering up billions of dollars to pivot the sports business away from those who built it for them in the first place. Disney’s focus now is on streaming services.
Most of the people let go are expected to be behind-the-scenes employees, though on-air talent Trey Wingo and longtime college football writer Ivan Maisel apparently also won’t have their contracts renewed.
“Trying to remain objective and unemotional as I learn of the ESPN team members laid off today,’’ former longtime ESPN host Bob Ley wrote on Twitter. “Not possible. Not as I see countless decades of journalistic experience, and expertise jettisoned. Just when we need it most. Enjoy the DIS stock price and your NFL football.’’
While Disneyland has been closed, Mickey has been working on his MBA.