ESPN laid off nearly 300 employees and announced that would be leaving 200 additional positions open and unfilled in November of 2020, about nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
The layoffs at ESPN, one of the largest and most recognized sports media outlets globally, sent a shockwave of alarm through the industry.
Despite the angst that stemmed from ESPN's significant cuts, layoffs are not new in the sports media world. Now a digital correspondent and Spanish radio broadcaster with the New York Red Bulls, Stefano Fusaro lost his job as a part of the Bureau team at ESPN during the November layoffs. After 16 years in the industry, Fusaro has witnessed four separate layoff periods. When he, among others on his team, was let go this past year, it came as a surprise.
"The entire group that was so heavily lauded at ESPN because of our availability, our ability to just jump into a story and work it -- and work it well -- just disappeared because of finances and different leadership," Fusaro said. "It's very difficult to look back on that and take it, just because we were so praised by everyone at the company, and all of a sudden, it's just like, that group is done."
The original announcement that the company would be undergoing cuts came in a memo from ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. It described the steps the company had taken to reconcile its finances in the short term but ultimately explained the decision to lay off about 6 percent of ESPN's employees.
"We have, however, reached an inflection point," Pitaro wrote in the memo emailed to employees. "Building a successful future in a changing world means facing hard choices. Making informed decisions about how and where we need to go – and, as always, in the most efficient way possible — is by far the most challenging job of any leadership team."
ESPN was not alone in having to make cuts. Other major sports media outlets were forced to lay off employees as well, including Fox Sports and NBC Sports, who each laid off 50 to 100 employees. The Athletic laid off 8% of its staff. According to The New York Times, at least 36,000 workers in the news industry were either furloughed or laid off or saw a pay cut during the pandemic.
Former ESPN staff writer Chris Peters was told he was being let go by his boss at the time. Peters described how empathetic and supportive other staff members were, from those he worked closely with covering the NHL, to those he only crossed paths with once or twice.
"That was the thing that really struck me and kind of stayed with me…," Peters said. "Even though I was there for a short time, we're talking like Sports Center anchors and people that are big deals at ESPN; they were just super supportive. So, that made me feel a lot better, that they cared enough to reach out."
Despite their different experiences, these former ESPN employees are similar in that they offer versatility and adaptability. Fusaro is bilingual and reports in both Spanish and English. Peters took his passion for hockey and transformed it into a career with his blog and eventual subscription newsletter.