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ESPN announces layoffs but says it's still committed to new Connecticut jobs

Staff and wire reports

Published May 21. 2013 1:00PM   Updated May 21. 2013 1:58PM

Despite Tuesday’s annoucement of layoffs, ESPN said that it will meet its obligations to create 200 jobs in Connecticut by 2016.

The company would not say how many jobs are being eliminated, but they include unfilled positions. ESPN has about 7,000 employees worldwide, with about 4,000 at its headquarters in Bristol. The vast majority work behind the scenes.

In August 2011, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced that ESPN would receive millions of dollars in state tax breaks with the construction of a digital technology building and the addition of at least 200 jobs over five years.

ESPN received a 10-year, $17.5 million state loan to build the digital center.

Network spokesman Mike Soltys said the construction project was not affected by Tuesday’s cuts.

"Notwithstanding these changes, we remain on track to reach the increase in jobs that are set out in the goals in the ‘First Five’ program,” he said.

Andrew R. Doba, Director of Communications for Malloy, said the state is confident ESPN will meet the hiring requirements.

“ESPN has been and will continue to be a key employer and economic driver for Connecticut,” he said in a press release. “They remain well on their way to meeting their hiring goals as part of the First Five program. Keep in mind that the new building on their campus that was a part of the First Five deal has not even opened yet. The state does have claw-back measures in place if a company fails to meet its target, but we have no reason to believe that they will be needed in this case. We urge any residents affected by this news to reach out to the Department of Labor as soon as possible.”

The company said Tuesday that it was “implementing changes across the company to enhance our continued growth while smartly managing costs. While difficult, we are confident that it will make us more competitive, innovative and productive.”

In April, Disney laid off about 150 people at LucasArts, the video-game making division of Lucasfilm, four months after acquiring the company behind “Star Wars” for $4.06 billion. Disney also laid off about the same number at the movie studio in April to cope with the decline in DVD sales as consumer habits shift to digital forms of home entertainment.

Still, Disney has been on a roll financially, beating or matching earnings per share estimates for the last eight quarters. After it reported a 32 percent gain in net income for its fiscal second-quarter earnings two weeks ago, more than a dozen Wall Street analysts raised their price targets on Disney stock to an average of nearly $72.

Fees from distributors for ESPN grew faster than expected in the latest quarter, while ad growth came in below expectations because of smaller audience numbers.

ESPN also has seen costs increase with skyrocketing prices for the broadcasting rights to live sports. For instance, the 12-year deal announced in November to televise the new college football playoff system will be worth about $470 million annually. The current four-year contract to air the Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls along with the BCS title game is worth about $125 million per year.

Live sports have become increasingly valuable in an age of fractured audiences and DVRs. That drives up rights fees, but also makes the programming more appealing to advertisers and allows ESPN to try to charge more from cable and satellite operators.

While announcing cuts Tuesday, ESPN will still be expanding in other areas. Earlier this month, it revealed that it was forming a network with the Southeastern Conference. The new network will launch in August 2014 under a 20-year agreement.

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