Questions Remain As To Whether Pitaro Will See Success At ESPN
The ascension of Jimmy Pitaro to ESPN President has "raised its share of eyebrows" within the company, as many are questioning what gave Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger the "confidence to award Pitaro Disney’s most valuable asset," according to sources cited by Andrew Wallenstein of VARIETY. Some questions stem from how Pitaro "fared for the past seven years" at Disney's Consumer Products & Interactive Media division, a "much smaller, oft-ignored division that has weathered plenty of turmoil and failure." But Pitaro is "regarded throughout the digital-media and sports circles he inhabits as a genial, well-liked and well-connected executive." Pitaro during his time at the consumer products division was "credited with restoring profit to a unit that was hemorrhaging hundreds of millions of dollars in losses before he got there," but did so by "aggressively cutting costs -- at least 1,200 jobs." The division has also had "only a handful of successes that all proved short-lived under Pitaro, whose detractors view him as offering little strategic vision to the unit beyond managing the financials from quarter to quarter." A source said, “It’s like they love him as an executive independent of what the results of his work are.” Pitaro will "leave behind a coterie of executives he brought over from Yahoo; the rest of DCPI is waiting to see whether they will move on with him to ESPN or stick around." Pitaro also "doesn’t have any experience in ESPN’s current core competency: television." Still, hiring a digital exec to run ESPN "speaks volumes about where Iger sees the brand’s future" (VARIETY.com, 3/9).
MEET & GREET: In this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, John Ourand cites sources as saying that ESPN’s "fraying relationship with the NFL" is the "top priority" for Pitaro. He already has "met with league executives in his first few days on the job" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/12 issue). In Virginia, David Teel noted ACC Commissioner John Swofford has "not met" Pitaro, but he "raved about the network’s continuing work on the ACC linear channel," set to launch in August '19. Swofford said, "ESPN has been just extremely aggressive in terms of the ACC channel and what needed to be done and what needs to be done. … Production decisions, starting to talk about talent and programming" (Hampton Roads DAILY PRESS, 3/11).
IN & AROUND BRISTOL: Ourand in a separate piece notes former ESPN President George Bodenheimer will "stay with the company through the end of the year in an advisory role" to Pitaro. Bodenheimer will be a "sounding board as the new president learns the inner workings and culture around ESPN" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/12 issue). Ourand also cites sources as saying that ESPN Exec VP/Affiliate Sales & Marketing Justin Connolly and Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus, who were both under consideration to run the company, are "working without contracts and already have been contacted by several companies interested in prying them away." Sources said that Pitaro’s top priority is to "convince Connolly and Magnus to stay, as both carry sterling reputations internally and externally" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/12 issue).