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Volume 21 No. 34
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As other companies come calling, what’s next for Connolly, Magnus?

Justin Connolly and Burke Magnus, two of ESPN’s top executives who were under consideration to run the company, are working without contracts and already have been contacted by several companies interested in prying them away, according to several sources.

 

The executives’ phones started ringing March 5, soon after Disney appointed Jimmy Pitaro as president of the company. Both Connolly, executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing, and Magnus, executive vice president of programming and scheduling, had interviewed for the ESPN president job.

ESPN’s executive vice president of content, Connor Schell, who also was considered for the president job, signed a contract just last year that will keep him tied to ESPN for at least the next several years.

Insiders say that Pitaro’s top priority is to convince Connolly and Magnus to stay, as both carry sterling reputations internally and externally. Connolly, who runs ESPN’s lucrative affiliate business, often was portrayed as the heir apparent to former president John Skipper and is well known throughout the media business, as well as college sports from his time running the SEC Network.

Magnus is the executive charged with negotiating rights deals with leagues and has deep relationships throughout the sports business.

While Connolly and Magnus are attracting outside interest, both executives have deep roots in Bristol. Together, they have spent a combined 38 years at the company; Magnus started in 1995, and Connolly was hired in 2003.

It’s not just the contracts of these top two ESPN executives that Pitaro has to shore up. He is walking into a corporate culture that has suffered through terrible morale problems in recent years, as ESPN has laid off hundreds of employees and cut costs.

The first non-ESPNer to become president since the 1980s, Pitaro will oversee a workforce that has prided itself in being more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic than Disney — though those two cultures have become much closer in recent years as Disney boss Bob Iger has gotten more involved in ESPN business.

Pitaro’s first attempt at tackling the corporate culture comes March 14 when he hosts an employee town hall in Bristol.