Next, ESPN’s bosses will be threatening to make them take furloughs

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By David Bauder
The Associated Press

NEW YORK — ESPN’s top executive told employees that he’s instituting a hiring freeze and won’t give any raises to top executives as one of television’s most successful enterprises feels the effect of the economy.

ESPN and ABC Sports chief George Bodenheimer said he expected 200 jobs will be cut within the next year, mostly positions currently unfilled.

The moves come despite what Bodenheimer called a record year for ESPN in 2008, although the company doesn’t release financial details. Cable television’s top sports franchise showed its muscle by outbidding everyone in November for the rights to televise college football’s Bowl Championship Series for four years starting in 2011.

“The economy is worsening,” Bodenheimer said, “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.”

He spoke to ESPN employees Wednesday through a company computer connection, and his message quickly became public.

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

Although top executives won’t see raises, Bodenheimer told the troops that some merit raises will still be available to lower level staff.

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

“Our goal remains to come out of this period stronger,” Bodenheimer said.

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