ESPN asks top talent to take temporary pay cuts

US sports broadcaster ESPN has asked approximately 100 of its top on-air commentators to take temporary pay cuts amid the ongoing sports competition shutdown enforced by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

According to multiple reports, ESPN is seeking 15 per cent cuts over three months of pay cycles for prominent on-air personnel. The network’s highest-paid commentators, such as Stephen A. Smith and Mike Greenberg, are expected to be affected.

The pay cut has been requested of anyone making more than $500,000, according to the Washington Post.

The aim is to prevent furloughs and pay cuts for lower-paid staff, with some employees who work on game production informed they will be furloughed. The request is voluntary, however, due to the terms of contracts, though it is expected that most participants will take part.

According to the Washington Post, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro told selected employees in an email: “Today, I am asking you something that I never imagined I would. We are reaching out to about 100 of our on-air talent and commentators to ask that, at this time, you join our ESPN executives in taking a temporary reduction in pay. We are requesting that you take this reduction on for a three-month period.”

“Please understand that we did not make this decision or request lightly,” Pitaro added. “We need your help. I am asking for your support, and I hope that you will rise up to this challenge.”

ESPN said in a statement: “We are asking about 100 of our commentators to join with our executives and take a temporary salary reduction. These are challenging times and we are all in this together.”

The network’s executives took pay cuts – ranging from 20 to 30 per cent – earlier this month, it has also been reported, with the exact reductions depending on job level and seniority.

Without any live sports to broadcast and report on, ESPN has been forced into a significant programming scramble, one that it has addressed in part through efforts such as special events and moving up release schedules for documentaries.

The request for talent pay cuts came on the day it emerged that former Disney chief executive Bob Iger has taken a new leading role in helping the media giant navigate the coronavirus crisis, which has badly hit the company in a number of ways including its theme parks, cruise ships, and film and television production. Iger was replaced by Bob Chapek as Disney CEO in February.

“A crisis of this magnitude, and its impact on Disney, would necessarily result in my actively helping Bob [Chapek] and the company contend with it, particularly since I ran the company for 15 years!” Iger told the New York Times.

Disney executives are also taking pay cuts, with Iger in particular forgoing his entire salary, and Chapek’s being cut by half.

Disney recently announced its Disney+ entertainment-focused streaming video service has surpassed 50 million subscribers worldwide since debuting just five months ago, highlighting a sharply accelerating growth rate.