ESPN's Skipper Dishes On New U.S. Open Tennis Deal, Aggressiveness Of Competitors
BROADCASTING & CABLE this week named ESPN President JOHN SKIPPER its Sports Exec of the Year and conducted a Q&A with him in which he explains how the net has "reacted to changes in the business." Below are excerpts from the interview.
Q: In the last year, ESPN has made big deals with sports rights holders and distributors. Which were most important in terms of dealing with changing circumstances?
Skipper: The U.S. Open tennis deal pushes us even further in the direction of making sure we have championship content on ESPN. It moves like we did with the British Open toward starting and finishing events. The distinction between broadcast and cable has never been less significant, and I think that's going to be true when the semifinals of the men's basketball tournament go to Turner this year.
Q: Knowing that the competition was coming, were there any steps you took this year that you might not have taken otherwise to defend your position?
Skipper: We looked at a number of things we did and they were good for us relative to competition. Launching KEITH OLBERMANN's show at 11 o'clock was good for us relative to the competition. I think it's highly possible we would have done it anyway. ... We hiked our level of aggression a little bit. So maybe we've done 10 things and we would have done seven if we hadn't had the competition.
Q: Did your competitors make any moves that surprised you?
Skipper: We were surprised by the aggression of Fox on U.S. Open golf. ... I was a little surprised ... by NBC Sports' Premier League on Saturday morning. It's not that I didn't expect them to do well, but I've been surprised at the quality overall of the execution (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 12/9 issue).