Skipper Had Maintained Busy Public Schedule In Recent Days Before Abrupt Resignation
ESPN President JOHN SKIPPER had been "very visible" in recent weeks prior to his abrupt resignation today due to substance addiction, according to Kevin Draper of the N.Y. TIMES. He attended the company’s "telecasts of the Heisman Trophy ceremony and the Lomachenko-Rigondeaux fight" on Dec. 8, while serving as the "keynote speaker at the Sports Video Group Summit" last week. He also led last Wednesday's meeting in Bristol for 450 of ESPN's "most prominent camera-facing talent" (NYTIMES.com, 12/18). USA TODAY's Tom Schad notes Skipper joined ESPN in '97 and took over as President in '12. He has "overseen a tumultuous period in the network's history, which has included both the expansion of exclusive rights agreements with multiple leagues and multiple waves of layoffs, including the elimination of roughly 150 positions last month" (USATODAY.com, 12/18). YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee notes under Skipper's tenure, ESPN "secured long-term rights agreements" with the NBA, MLB, the CFP and several major college conferences and bowls. ESPN also "established agreements with multiple providers outside of the traditional cable-TV spectrum." However, he has also served during "arguably the most tumultuous era in the network’s history, a time when ESPN found itself an unlikely flashpoint for the ongoing everything-is-political environment of America" in '17. Busbee notes the net has "suffered significant losses as consumers continue to sever ties with traditional cable packages" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/18).
BUMPS IN THE ROAD RECENTLY: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Jeremy Barr writes while Skipper’s departure comes as a surprise, his tenure overseeing ESPN “isn’t without blemishes.” Skipper “admitted fault in creating an ESPN show for Barstool Sports personalities and then abruptly cancelling it after only one episode.” There also was the “unceremonious departure” of BILL SIMMONS after his “relationship with Skipper faltered” (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 12/18). VARIETY's Cynthia Littleton writes Skipper had "already been under fire for personnel issues at ESPN in recent months." Morale in Bristol "has been challenged by a steady stream of layoffs as the once-invincible sports powerhouse adjusts to cord-cutting and a changing business climate" (VARIETY.com, 12/18). The N.Y. TIMES' Draper writes the last six months have been “perhaps the most trying time of Skipper’s almost five years in charge” of the net. The Boston Globe last week “reported on a hostile work environment for women at ESPN” (NYTIMES.com, 12/18).
BIG HIT FOR THE COMPANY: CNBC’s Kayla Tausche called the news a "bombshell," as Skipper “knows every single nook and cranny" of ESPN. CNBC’s Michael Santoli said Skipper’s departure is big “in light of the fact that we have the acquisition of the Fox assets, which was in a sense going to enlarge the ESPN opportunities as well as the kind of streaming of sports possibility.” Santoli: “That really, if anything, it underscores the fact this is really about his own personal issues as opposed to some sort of strategic thing that is somehow the company nudging him aside.” CNBC's Julia Boorstin notes with the launch of ESPN Plus planned for the spring, some people felt it was maybe "time for Skipper to move on anyways and to bring in a younger management team.” Boorstin: “It will be interesting how this pans out and who they replace him with” (“Squawk Alley,” CNBC, 12/18).
IN GOOD HANDS: Former Frontier Communications CEO Maggie Wilderotter said of former ESPN President GEORGE BODENHEIMER taking over as acting Chair while the company searches for a new president, "George is going to come in and take care of ESPN, he's a seasoned veteran, he knows the business inside and out, so ESPN is in good hands as they look for a new leader.” Wilderotter added, “Bodenheimer has a lot of experience with ESPN at the helm so he has done many acquisitions and actually forays into new businesses when he was the leader." Wilderotter noted Bodenheimer never left ESPN because "he's been chairman so he's up to speed on the company itself so I don't think they’re going to really miss a beat" (“Squawk Alley,” CNBC, 12/18).