Come the new year, The Walt Disney Co. will place day-to-day leadership responsibility for ESPN in the hands of John Skipper, as current leader George Bodenheimer will become executive chairman of the sports programming giant.
Bodenheimer, currently president of ESPN and ABC Sports and co-chair of Disney Media Networks, will relinquish his day-to-day operating duties on Jan. 1. As executive chairman, Bodenheimer, 53, will continue to chair ESPN's board of directors, provide strategic direction and support a seamless transition to Skipper, who will assume day-to-day operating responsibilities as ESPN president and co-chair of Disney Media Networks.
Skipper, 55, has served as ESPN executive vice president, content since October 2005. He joined ESPN in June 1997 as senior vice president and general manager of ESPN The Magazine. Previously, he was senior vice president of The Disney Publishing Group, overseeing all of Disney's magazine, book and licensed publishing operations in the U.S.
The moves continue Disney's focus on ensuring strategic continuity and succession planning, which saw it announce that president and CEO Robert Iger will add the title of chairman after the media conglomerate's annual meeting in March. At that time, current Disney chairman John Pepper will step down. Iger's employment contract has been extended to 2016, when he will become executive chairman.
While it is still years until a successor will be named, possible front-runners for the CEO position include Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs and chief financial officer Jay Rasulo.
Under the new lineup at ESPN, Bodenheimer, who has been with the company for more than three decades, will continue to report to Iger, with Skipper having a dual report to both men.
"George has said repeatedly that ESPN's success has been led by its collaborative corporate culture and a deep bench of executive talent," said Iger in a statement. "While that remains true, it obviously and intentionally downplays his leadership and many significant contributions. We've focused on succession at all levels of Disney for some time now, and consistent with that approach, George initiated conversations last spring that led to today's announcement.
"With George's continued presence, John's experience and vision and an executive management team and workforce that are unparalleled in the sports media business," he continued, "ESPN is extremely well-positioned for continued success."
During his 13-year tenure atop ESPN, the worldwide leader has lived up to its moniker, forging a multiplatform approach domestically and around the globe. With the flagship network pulling in monthly license fees from U.S. distributors approaching the $5 mark monthly, ESPN is extremely well-funded and has become the envy of its competitors in the growing sports space.
Currently, its roster comprises eight U.S. TV networks, five HD services, a 3D TV network, 48 international networks, 13 international editions of SportsCenter, 18 websites, 750 radio affiliates, the largest mobile sports operation and 7,000 employees worldwide.
"I've been with ESPN 31 years -- my entire professional career," said Bodenheimer. "Constant change and consistent growth have marked each of those years, and to me those two themes underscore today's news. We've demonstrated that change managed well is healthy - for companies and for people. After 13 years as president, I felt it was a good time to step away from the day to day management of ESPN and let others take the lead. I very much appreciate Bob's support over the years, and look forward to my future role with ESPN.
In his current role, Skipper has been responsible for the creation, programming and production of ESPN content across all media platforms. Under his leadership, ESPN has successfully secured or renewed major rights agreements with the NFL, NBA, MLB, FIFA, The Masters, the British Open, the USTA, Wimbledon and many college conferences. The company has also expanded its base or original programming through ESPN Films sports documentary series.
"I am humbled and excited to be given the opportunity by Bob and George to lead this terrific company." Skipper said. "George set a high bar and an impeccable example, and I will dedicate all of my energy to follow George's lead in both empowering and supporting my 7,000 ESPN colleagues who do such great work every day. I look forward to working alongside them in meeting the many challenges that lie ahead."