SBD/May 1, 2013/Media

ESPN President John Skipper Discusses Media Rivals, Sports' Staying Power

Skipper says there is a scarcity of high-profile events for sports TV
ESPN President John Skipper said sports "will remain ascendant" in popular culture because there are "still people who have games they care about that aren’t produced and available widely," according to a Q&A with Ray Bendici of CONNECTICUT MAGAZINE. Skipper discussed increasing competition from Fox and NBC, how he budgets his time and other matters. Excerpts from the interview follow:

Q: Is it possible for sports to become even more popular?
Skipper: What I do believe is that there’s still demand for more sports. ... The other issue you’ve got, of course, is that sports are live and in this current media environment, the only thing you have to watch live other than news -- although this is scheduled.

Q: Are sports over-exposed?
Skipper: No, I don’t think so. Fans want as much choice as possible. But it’s a choice -- if you don’t want to watch it, you don’t have to watch it. It’s not going to get overexposed.

Q: Fox just announced its own sports network ... and NBC is increasing its sports coverage, so is there enough content for everyone?
Skipper: The answer is “Yes,” and “No.” There is literally enough content, right? What there is a scarcity of is high-profile big events. ... When you get to the things that aggregate an audience of a million-plus people, there’s not that much. ... So the issue for these new networks is that there’s plenty of content to put on, but is there big-event content that can actually aggregate you an audience? Because you need those big events to have your studio programming get a big audience because it’s all about lead-ins.

Q: Biggest challenge for the worldwide leader in sports?
Skipper: There are several big challenges. Maintaining the culture of the company. Maintaining the quality of the people who work here is very, very important. We have a very successful business model, which has as one of its important elements the pay-television business, so the continuation of that business is an important issue for us. ... If you have to sum it up into one thing, we just have to keep our edge -- we have to be not complacent.

Q: Biggest challenge for the leader of the worldwide leader in sports?
Skipper: The biggest challenge is managing my time, prioritizing, figure out where best to use my time because the range of things I can get involved in from rights deals to innovations owned to studio programming to relationships with major partners, distribution deals to being out at the Walt Disney Company to participate there. ... It’s also staying in touch with as many people as possible. This is a very people-oriented culture, so I make a point to get down to the cafeteria and walk around, see people and shake hands. It’s one person with a plethora of things to do, so it’s figuring out how to spend my time, that’s the hardest challenge (CONNECTICUT MAGAZINE, 5/'13 issue).
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