Top ESPN talent accept the 15-percent pay cut

ESPN made its highest-paid talent an offer that they couldn’t not accept.

Hoping to avoid furloughs of lower-paid employees who lack the protection of a contract, ESPN asked its highest-paid on-air talent — 100 of them — to take a 15-percent pay cut voluntarily over the next three months. And, naturally, word is getting out as to those who accepted, which in turn will put pressure on others to do the same.

The key, frankly, are the agents. They’ll keep doing deals with ESPN well into the future, and if they play ball at a time when ESPN needs a big favor, the big favors will swing back in the agents’ favor later, on new deals for the talent who take short-term haircuts (at a time when they can’t get literal haircuts) and in other deals with other persons not currently at ESPN.

Andrew Marchand of the New York Post has the names of some of the ESPN talent who said “yes” to the request, explaining that all ESPN clients represented by Endeavor have said yes (bonus points for Endeavor) and that all ESPN clients represented by Sandy Montag also said yes (bonus points for Montag).

Those who has agreed to take less include Stephen A. Smith, Mike Greenberg, Scott Van Pelt, Dick Vitale, Mike Breen, Mark Jackson, and Jay Bilas. Frankly, it’s a bigger ask from folks who are still working than from those who aren’t needed because they primarily if not completely cover games that aren’t being played. Guys like Smith, Greenberg, and Van Pelt are still punching the clock and giving ESPN stuff for TV and digital.

Even so, that distinction will get lost in the sauce if folks tell ESPN to get bent when it’s trying to avoid breaking the backs of lower-paid colleagues. And it will be interesting to see whether ESPN truly remembers the gesture down the road; when ESPN dropped 1.25 percent of the workforce in 2017 for reasons driven by a strategic desire to take a balance-sheet hit, some employee who had contracts paid out but who wanted to keep working for their money weren’t permitted to do so. Hopefully, ESPN will be a little more flexible the next time something like that happens, given the flexibility that its highest-paid employees are showing.

Then again, it’s not like these employees have a real choice, lest they be perceived as selfish or worse. And as the names of those who said “yes” emerge, it will be interesting to see whether anyone says “no” — and whether those names come out, too.

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