ESPN faces job losses as economy tightens

Even ESPN, one of pay television’s richest networks, is feeling the economic pinch. Top executives have instituted a hiring freeze, ended raises to top executives and expect layoffs of 200 jobs this year.

ESPN and ABC Sports chief George Bodenheimer estimated 200 jobs would be cut within the next year — mostly from positions currently unfilled. The financial cutbacks come despite what Bodenheimer called a record year for ESPN in 2008.

ESPN doesn’t release financial details, so it’s difficult for outsiders to analyze its true financial situation. The network, as the top franchise in cable television, outbid everyone last November for the rights to televise college football’s Bowl Championship Series for four years starting in 2011.

“The economy is worsening,” Bodenheimer told employees through an intercompany computer connection, “and ESPN and our business partners — especially some of our major advertisers — are feeling the impact more acutely than at any point in our lifetime.”

ESPN is not ruling out employee layoffs, although the vast majority of job cuts will come through not filling open jobs. Bodenheimer said he’s ordering a review of operations over the next few months to find ways to save money.

Top executives won’t see raises; however, Bodenheimer told the staff that some merit raises will still be available to lower-level staff.

He also said the company would make key investments both in the United States and internationally. ESPN and partner ABC are expected to be bidders later this year when the rights to televise the 2014 and 2016 Olympics go up for auction.