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Jimmy Pitaro Calls ESPN Layoffs ‘Inflection Point’

“The boss writes that ESPN+ and other digital properties will get a renewed focus, while the company continues to figure out the best ways to present innovative television.”

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Jimmy Pitaro

Jimmy Pitaro acknowledged that layoffs will indeed hit ESPN today. Andrew Marchand of The New York Post obtained an internal memo from the network’s President to his staff. In it, he confirms that 300 employees will be laid off and 200 open positions will be effected as well.

“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,” Pitaro writes. “The pandemic’s significant impact on our business clearly accelerated those forward-looking discussions. 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.”

Pitaro writes that ESPN has “reached an inflection point” and cannot ignore the realities of what it has to do in order to fall in line with the Walt Disney Company’s focus on its direct-to-consumer businesses. The boss writes that ESPN+ and other digital properties will get a renewed focus, while the company continues to figure out the best ways to present innovative television.

A reality that isn’t mentioned in the memo, but has been widely reported on, is Disney’s willingness to spend more money on play-by-play rights. The company is reportedly dedicated to doing what it needs to in order to secure ABC a spot in the Super Bowl broadcast rotation. It also needs to finalize a new deal for ESPN with Major League Baseball and has expressed interest in being a part of the NHL’s next round of media rights negotiations. Those factors likely play a role in ESPN’s need to free up some money.

The memo strikes a somber tone as Pitaro acknowledges what is about to happen in Bristol. “We are parting ways with some exceptional team members – some of whom have been here for a long time – and all of whom have made important contributions to ESPN.”

Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports also obtained a copy of the memo. He posted it in full on Twitter.

Outkick’s Bobby Burack was the first to report that layoffs at ESPN were looming. It will be the third round of staff reductions in the last five years. The previous two events, in 2015 and 2017 respectively, resulted in a combined 500 job losses.

Sports TV News

FOX To Air Documentary About Gus Johnson Attending Harvard

“It will air on February 18 ahead of a Michigan State vs. Michigan basketball game, where Johnson will the call the action.”

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Gus Johnson

The life of a broadcaster is busy enough already. Imagine adding classes at Harvard to the schedule! That is what Gus Johnson did this year while calling college football and basketball for FOX and the network wants to take people inside that experience.

Back to School with Gus Johnson is a one hour special documenting Johnson trying to balance the two demanding realities. It will air on February 18 on FOX.

“I was nervous about letting people into my life, but I thought if I could show kids through my journey that education is cool, it was worth it,” Gus Johnson said in a press release. “I think this is a really good story and hope that it inspires. I also hope fans enjoy watching some fantastic folks at a great school, and get new insights into sports as well as the pursuit of lifelong learning.”

Johnson was recruited to be a part of Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative in 2022. His classmates in the year-long program included business and social leaders from around the world. During that time, not only did he call college football and basketball for FOX. Johnson also called some NBA Playoff games for TNT.

University of Michigan football coach, Jim Harbaugh and Harvard basketball coach, Tommy Amaker both appear in the film as do other stars from the sports world.

“FOX Sports is honored to shine a spotlight on Gus Johnson’s story from becoming one of the most iconic voices in all of sports to his truly inspirational new journey through academia,” Charlie Dixon, Executive Vice President & Head of Content for FOX Sports, added. “Gus is a one-of-a-kind talent, and we couldn’t be more excited to give audiences a special look into his illustrious career and the impactful work he is doing at Harvard.”

Back to School with Gus Johnson is a collaboration between FOX and Coaches+ Media. It will air on February 18 ahead of a Michigan State vs. Michigan basketball game, where Johnson will the call the action.

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Sports TV News

JJ Redick: Being Pro-Player Is Not a Bias

“I want to support all players. I’m a fan of basketball.”

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JJ Redick has been a rising star since arriving at ESPN, whether it’s been debating with Stephen A Smith on First Take or being a color commentator on NBA games.  Redick does view himself as being pro-player from his 16-year career in the league, but he does not view that as a negative.

“I don’t look at being pro player as some sort of bias,” he said this week on the Knuckleheads with Quentin Richardson & Darius Miles podcast. “I do think there are narratives, not just on First Take, about Lebron, Kevin [Durant], Steph [Curry] that I think are stupid. I think there are bad narratives.”

JJ Redick did mention that last year he felt he had to cross the pro-player threshold when he talked about the situation in New Orleans where CJ McCollum hadn’t heard from Zion Williamson after McCollum was traded to New Orleans. He didn’t feel bad about anything he said for two different reasons.

“One, I said everything I said on camera to Zion personally because I was his teammate. Two, some of that stuff was about the sanctity of the team.

“I had to go talk about Kyrie/KD/Nets. Some of that is uncomfortable to talk about because I want to be pro-player. I want to support all players. I’m a fan of basketball. But, sometimes you f up the sanctity of your team, we need to have a discussion about that.”

Back in September, JJ Redick signed a three-year deal with ESPN and for a player who didn’t think he would ever work in media, he is happy to be doing what he is doing now.

“Last year I looked at as like a test run. What do I like to do, what things are important to me, what do I want to do? For me, it’s calling games and First Take. I like battling with Stephen A. I like doing that stuff.”

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Shannon Sharpe: ‘I Take Full Accountability’ For Altercation With Memphis Grizzlies

“I was wrong. I should have lowered the temperature in the arena, instead, I turned the temperature up and I let it get out of hand.”

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On Saturday morning, many of us woke up to the news that Shannon Sharpe had gotten into an altercation with members of the Memphis Grizzlies and their families before halftime during the previous night’s loss in Los Angeles. It was a strange scene that saw the Undisputed host jawing back and forth with Dillon Brooks, Steven Adams, and Ja Morant’s father.

For the second time this month, Undisputed opened with one of its hosts addressing a controversy he was in the middle of. Sharpe apologized to a number of people, saying that he takes ” full responsibility for what transpired”.

“It does not matter what Dillon Brooks said or how many times he said it,” Shannon Sharpe said Monday morning on FS1. “Me being the responsible person, me having the platform that I have and having so many people look up to me, I was wrong. I should have lowered the temperature in the arena, instead, I turned the temperature up and I let it get out of hand.”

At one point Friday night, Crypto.com Arena security had to take Sharpe off of the floor. The Pro Football Hall of Famer was in the tunnel as the staff tried to calm him down.

Shannon Sharpe mentioned several people by name in his apology. Ja and Tee Morant, Dillon Brooks, and Lebron James were among those mentioned. So were the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, and everyone at FOX, who Sharpe regretted were forced to answer for his behavior.

“I’m never gonna be too big to say I’m sorry. I’m never gonna be too big to say I’m wrong. And in that situation, I was absolutely wrong.”

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