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Volume 21 No. 1
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Life after Skipper: Busy schedule keeps ESPN staffers focused

ESPN’s Burke Magnus spoke about the aftermath of John Skipper’s departure.
Photo by: ESPN IMAGES
ESPN executives and staffers are trying to maintain a kind of tunnel vision on their work in the face of swirling uncertainty that has engulfed Bristol since John Skipper’s shocking resignation.

On this week’s SBJ/SBD Media Podcast, ESPN Executive Vice President of Programming and Scheduling Burke Magnus spoke of how surprised he was by Skipper’s Dec. 18 resignation, when the former ESPN president cited a substance addiction problem as his reason for leaving on such short notice.

But Magnus, who is among the first of ESPN’s senior executives to discuss Skipper’s departure publicly, said that it’s been easier for ESPN staffers to focus on business since Skipper’s move came during one of the network’s busiest times — right in the middle of college bowl season. Magnus referenced a four-week schedule that saw ESPN carry live events that included everything from the MLS Cup and an NFL Wild Card playoff game to the NBA regular season and a big Top Rank boxing card.

“Despite the news about John, the mood up here is pretty good,” Magnus said. “People are focused. People don’t really have the luxury of slowing down during what is really one of the busiest times of the year for us — and best times of the year for us.”

Former ESPN President George Bodenheimer agreed to step in and replace Skipper on an interim basis for 90 days, during which time Disney chief Bob Iger will identify a new president. Magnus credited Bodenheimer’s steady leadership style with helping ESPN staffers focus on the business rather than Skipper’s departure.

“I’ve been referring to George as a first-ballot hall of famer in the category of interim CEO,” Magnus said. “He bleeds ESPN. He knows our culture. He knows our people. He knows our business. He’s a steady hand.”

The day after Skipper’s announcement, Bodenheimer was on the Bristol campus meeting with employees and re-introducing a feeling of calm.

“He’s come in already and kept everybody on task,” Magnus said. “His best contribution will be continuing to keep us moving forward and keep us looking for opportunities to grow.”

Magnus spoke in glowing terms of the departed Skipper, who he said was well liked and still has a lot of personal support from the company.

“My primary thought, and I know the thought of many people at ESPN, is just for John,” Magnus said. “We love John. He was a great boss and an unbelievable leader for the company. We just hope he gets healthy, and we hope that he comes through this with flying colors.”