Bodenheimer on Diversity


A day back from the National Show in San Francisco, I took a field trip to Bristol, Conn., to catch up with George Bodenheimer, who heads up ESPN and ABC Sports.

That’s because Bodenheimer is certainly the man of the hour, having walked away from the National Show with a coveted and long-overdue Vanguard Award. He was honored again this past week, in the Big Apple, where he accepted the T. Howard Foundation’s award for championing workplace diversity.

I don’t know how many of you have made the trek to ESPN headquarters in bucolic Bristol, but once you’re there you’re likely to agree, it’s really a happening. When I was there, the place was abuzz because ESPN was hosting a lunch for NBA Commissioner David Stern and his team.

In other corridors of the ambling “campus,” as they call it, guides were conducting tours — lingering longest at ESPN’s new digital center, which will serve as the nerve center for the network as it takes its vast library of content and slices and dices it for repurposing for every imaginable platform.

Bodenheimer is most excited about the possibilities and realities afforded by new wireless technology. By next February or sooner, the ESPN phone will be available, thanks to a deal the network has already made with Sprint Corp.

Aside from all the great sideshows at ESPN — the sprawling gym, the basketball courts — the place has the constant hum of a 24/7 company. In the ESPN cafeteria, which is open 23 hours a day (one hour down for cleanup), I could see a sea of diverse faces, something I didn’t expect in the middle of Connecticut.

Not only were the faces diverse, but there were plenty of women working in what I would have expected to be a male-dominated culture. Clearly, ESPN has gone out of its way to make diversity a corporate value, both on and off the screen.

And this is nothing new for ESPN, which had initiated its diversity program back in 1993. As good as all that is, Bodenheimer wants to do even more on that front.

He acknowledges that ESPN has always been good at promoting diversity on the screen, given the nature of sports and the athletes who populate that arena. But drilling down into the workplace, or behind the screens to promote diversity is far more challenging.

Given ESPN’s enviable financials, diversity has paid off. The company is also a good corporate neighbor in Bristol, where exit signs promote the town as the home of ESPN.

The company employees about 3,500 employees from the region.

So catch what Bodenheimer himself has to say about diversity by tuning into This Week in Cable ( Indeed, ESPN is a company that walks the walk on the diversity front.