ESPN has been very quiet about the hundreds of workers they've sent packing over the past month. There wasn't any word circulating about the job cuts until the morning they came, and ESPN president John Skipper has kept communication about the job cuts to the bare minimum.
He was a little more expansive in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, characterizing the mass layoffs this way: "So we eliminated a bunch of jobs." He added that ESPN is going to be hiring again, too. We're sure the 300-400 people looking for new work are thrilled to hear both of these things. Here's his quote in full, regarding the staff reduction:
We are at the end of it. We had not for a long time looked at our organization with an eye toward making sure that our resources, our people, our money was spent against things that make a difference. The world's a little different. There's really 10 distribution deals to do now, and they're long-term, so we consolidated some of our affiliate sales functions. We closed the Denver office; we quit doing 3D. So we eliminated a bunch of jobs. But we are adding people for the SEC Network; we're adding people in digital; we will add people for the new SportsCenter. We are continuing to put more resources in L.A. We're not retrenching.
On Bill Simmons, Skipper says working with him is just great. Most of the time!
Bill is a unique talent. There has never been anybody writing about sports who has had more readers than Bill Simmons. Bill creates a lot of great content for us. He is passionate about what he does, and every now and then that passion explodes onto his Twitter account, and we have to figure out how to deal with it. I'm personally very fond of Bill. He's done a lot for our company. It has been about 99.8 percent great.
And remember when we told you a few weeks ago about a brief, sexless scandal in 2009 that changed how ESPN dealt with interoffice relationships and sexual harassment? Skipper said as much in this interview too:
There is zero tolerance for harassment, for inappropriate remarks, for inappropriate pictures. We made it very clear. Four or five years ago, we had three or four difficult incidents, and we called all of our talent in and told them there are not three strikes, there's one. If you're caught harassing somebody or discriminating against somebody — you want to make a homophobic joke, you want to make a sexist joke — you put your job at risk immediately.
That's precisely what employees were told after Steve Phillips and Brooke Hundley had been fired.
One last choice bit: Asked which TV rights he wishes ESPN had purchased, he (surprisingly!) put the NHL at the top of the list. Read the whole thing. It's well worth it, just for the cognitive dissonance of listening to a guy make the same old triumphalist noises about the ESPN juggernaut while hundreds of people are carrying their desk philodendra out the door (more on that later).