SBD/June 19, 2017/People and Pop Culture

ESPN President John Skipper Gives Blueprint For Future With Executive Shake-Up

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ESPN President JOHN SKIPPER's "earthshaking announcement" Friday of promotions, realignments and farewells among senior execs is "in part admission that the old architecture wasn't working -- and also in part, Skipper's bold blueprint for the future," according to author James Andrew Miller in a guest column for the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Either way, ESPN's "'new world order' finally looks like a company run" by Skipper. He has to "know better than anybody the challenges that ESPN faces and the necessity for putting together the best possible roster if he's going to steady what has appeared in recent years a somewhat shaky ship." Newly promoted Exec VP/Content CONNOR SCHELL will be "one part of a new three-headed leadership monster that will serve Skipper and help him lead ESPN employees into its ever-clouded future." Schell "first garnered outside attention when he co-created ESPN's hugely acclaimed '30 for 30' documentary series with BILL SIMMONS."

HARD TO SAY GOODBYE: Skipper "bid farewell to two of his closest lieutenants throughout his presidency" in Exec VP/Global Business & Content Strategy MARIE DONOGHUE and Exec VP/Digital & Print Media JOHN KOSNER. Donoghue, whom Skipper "championed unwaveringly until the end," had "survived a vote of no-confidence from none other than the powerful" Simmons when he was at the net. Yet "ironically she couldn't excel in a post-Simmons world." Key execs inside ESPN "lacked faith in Donoghue's expertise or resented her management style, or both." Skipper in a statement said he worked with Donoghue for 17 years and she has "proven to be creative and forward thinking, with unique insight across evolving and traditional media." He added, "She is a dedicated, talented, seasoned executive and I look forward to her counsel." Meanwhile, Miller notes it could be argued that Kosner's departure is "just as much his decision as Skipper's, since it's doubtful Skipper would have ever axed Kosner on his own." But Skipper "must have known that he was making it unlikely if not impossible that Kosner would agree to report to Schell after having had a privileged direct line to the big boss." Skipper has had a "much tougher presidency than any other ESPN president except for CHET SIMMONS, who helped launch the company." Skipper now has to "write a new chapter filled with success while being mindful that in a few short years, ESPN's deals with the NFL, baseball and other big-time acquisitions will be up for grabs" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 6/19).

A BIG LOSS: SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote Donoghue's departure is "significant," as she was one of the "most powerful behind the scenes figures at ESPN and a key member" of Skipper’s inner circle. Deitsch: "Clearly, that changed." She "notably was the top business executive in charge of Grantland, including when ESPN folded the site." It was a "mess" with Donoghue and Simmons at the end of Grantland, and "that's part of her resume." But Donoghue is the person who "came to fix The Undefeated" (SI.com, 6/18).

LET'S TALK IT OUT: SBJ/SBD Executive Editor Abe Madkour and media writer John Ourand discuss ESPN’s management changes in this 10-minute podcast. Ourand believes the moves set up the line of succession for Skipper, with JUSTIN CONNOLLY, Schell and BURKE MAGNUS ready to take over when Skipper ultimately decides to leave. Madkour: “At the Thought Leaders Retreat we just completed at Half Moon Bay, conversation was dominated by the future of ESPN. ... It’s a company that keeps giving us news and keeps giving us exciting stories to watch and monitor.”

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