SBJ/20100927/This Week's Issue

ESPN communications execs plan exit

Two longtime communications executives are leaving ESPN next month as the company undergoes a reorganization designed to consolidate most of its public relations operations in its Bristol, Conn., headquarters.

Mark Mandel and George McNeilly — two executives with more than 30 combined years of experience at ABC and ESPN — told their bosses that they will not make that move. They both plan to work until Oct. 15.

As part of the move, ESPN will close its PR office near Disney World, which has six employees.

Last month, ESPN told its Orlando PR staff that it was closing the office, giving them about a month to decide whether they wanted to move to Bristol or take a buyout.

Two employees — a secretary and a publicist — decided to make the move. One other, Jenny Zimmerman, a media relations manager, will not be making the move.

Also last month, Mandel, who was based in Manhattan, was told that his position was being eliminated. He was told that he could apply for positions in Bristol, but opted to leave the company instead.

“I consider this a great opportunity for me to meet the challenges ahead and prove my value in this business,” Mandel said.

Mandel, a senior director, has been a fixture in sports media since 1988, when he joined ABC Sports. He eventually led ABC Sports’ communications division until 2005 when ESPN took over the network’s sports division. Mandel then moved to oversee ESPN’s PR efforts with the NBA and golf.

The network’s NBA PR efforts will be handled by communications manager Nate Smeltz, who had been working with Mandel.

ESPN’s main NASCAR PR executive, McNeilly, also opted to leave the company. A senior director of communications, McNeilly has been at ESPN since 2001, coming over when ESPN bought BASS.

“My family is thriving in central Florida, so a move to Bristol is not on the horizon,” McNeilly said. “It’s been a great 11 years, and I am very thankful for all the opportunities.”

Media relations manager Andy Hall will remain in Florida, working out of a home office. He will continue his role doing communications for NASCAR and will add golf to his responsibilities.

ESPN has 50 employees in its communications department. At the end of this round of consolidation, 38 will be based in Bristol, to go along with eight in New York, two in London, one in Florida and one in Los Angeles.

The PR moves are part of a larger corporate initiative to consolidate operations to Bristol. For example, ESPN already has decided to move ESPN The Magazine’s operations from Manhattan to Bristol. The physical move is expected to happen in November.

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