In an abrupt move that shocked sports media, ESPN president John Skipper resigned from his executive spot helming one of the most important brands in the industry. As an explanation for this surprise exit, Skipper noted that he’d been battling a substance abuse problem for several years.
ESPN Struggles Moving Forward
As ESPN hosts and other media wished him good luck in his future endeavors, as well as his impending struggle, ESPN scrambled to keep the ship moving in the right direction. The decision caught nearly everyone flat-footed. Just a week prior to announcing his plans, Skipper led an end-of-the-year party for about 500 ESPN team members. The annual meeting is both “thank you” session and “state of the union” for the company. He telegraphed nothing. But, when discussing his reasons for leaving after the announcement, Skipper was candid and focused, saying: “The most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem…”
That was it. No further information, and no other smoke that might indicate the fire of a scandal hidden deeper beneath what was released. In fact, Disney had just renewed Skipper’s contract through 2021, anticipating he would be at the helm as the company expanded into streaming media and, likely, additional original content.
Some speculated that Skipper’s decision may have had something to do with the recent announcement of ESPN’s parent company, Disney, buying 21st Century Fox, but several sources squashed that rumor before it had a chance to get off the ground.
Shock to all fans
So, all sports media and sports fans are left with is shock and wonder. And ESPN is left with a familiar face in the president’s seat, at least temporarily. George Bodenheimer, who was ESPN president immediately prior to Skipper, is acting chair. That should give the company and its various properties at least a measure of stability at this time.
Then again, there was a reason Skipper was not only hired but also renewed as president. ESPN was in the very early stages of a major shift in how it brings its content to consumers. Skipper, based on the recent renewal, was expected to be there through that shift. Now, they have Bodenheimer back.
And, given that, it’s possible ESPN won’t miss a beat. It was Bodenheimer, not Skipper, who hired many of the company’s top execs, and he has been Skipper’s right hand in many recent public appearances. So, ESPN is shocked, but they are in a pretty good situation in these circumstances.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States