ESPN is letting go of about 20 on-air personalities, including two familiar names to NBA viewers: game analyst Jeff Van Gundy and studio co-host Jalen Rose.
Keyshawn Johnson, a former NFL player who had co-hosted ESPN Radio’s national morning show in one of many chapters in a 16-year run on ESPN, is also among those leaving. Also out is Max Kellerman, Johnson’s radio co-host as well as host of This Just In and formerly Stephen A. Smith’s longtime sparring partner on daily morning TV staple First Take.
A person familiar with the cutbacks told Deadline they are unrelated to the multi-round Disney layoffs implemented in recent months. Those reductions saw a number of senior-level execs leave ESPN but spared on-air talent. The source indicated that many of those affected by the new cuts have contracts beyond June 30 and will paid out accordingly, but parting ways will enable ESPN to avoid wider layoffs. The sports operation is now its own division of Disney, making its financials more visible.
Also part of the new wave of departures are NHL analyst Chris Chelios, NFL analyst Rob Ninkovich and 23-year SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett. Those individual exits had been reported in recent weeks.
“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,” ESPN 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.”
ESPN has been navigating a dramatic shift in its economic foundation due to ongoing cord-cutting. After peaking at about 100 million households a decade ago, the network reported reaching 74 million homes in 2022, depriving it of significant distribution revenue. Apart from events like college football, the NFL and the NBA, which have seen robust ratings, linear tune-in has been declining for all traditional networks as more viewers turn to streaming.
Disney has confirmed it is actively planning to offer a more complete version of ESPN as a stand-alone streaming option, but migrating it is a fraught process given the network’s agreements with pay-TV operators, leagues and other stakeholders. ESPN+, which launched in 2018, reached 25.3 million subscribers earlier this year but does not carry a full complement of news or live event programming.
Van Gundy, the former head coach of the New York Knicks, has been part of a longtime trio calling NBA games for ESPN, alongside Mike Breen and Mark Jackson. Rose, in addition to his NBA studio duties, previously hosted daytime talk show Jalen & Jacoby.