Disney's ESPN Head George Bodenheimer to Drop Day-to-Day Duties Jan. 1


UPDATED: The company promotes John Skipper to ESPN president and co-chair, Disney Media Networks.

NEW YORK -- In a surprise announcement Tuesday Walt Disney Company president and CEO Robert A. Iger promoted John Skipper to ESPN president and co-chair, Disney Media Networks replacing longtime ESPN chief George Bodenheimer who will become executive chairman of ESPN.

Bodenheimer, currently president of ESPN and ABC Sports, will give up day-to-day responsibilities for television’s top sports brand effective Jan. 1, the company said. Bodenheimer will continue to chair ESPN’s Board of Directors and report to Iger. Skipper, who assumes his new job on Jan. 1, will report to both Bodenheimer and Iger.

In a statement, Iger said that Bodenheimer “initiated conversations last spring that led to today’s announcement.” The move, the company said, ensures a “seamless transition.” 

Bodenheimer will continue to report to Iger.  Skipper will have a dual report to Iger and Bodenheimer. Skipper has been executive vp of content at ESPN since 2005.

“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. “While that remains true, it obviously and intentionally downplays his leadership and many significant contributions. 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, ESPN is extremely well positioned for continued success.”

Bodenheimer has been at ESPN his entire professional career, starting with the company in the mail room 31 years ago. He has been president of ESPN for 13 years and is widely credited with the network’s expansion. Currently ESPN has eight US television networks, five HD services, a 3D television network, 48 international networks 13 international editions of flagship program SportsCenter, 18 web sties, 750 radio affiliates, and a 116-acre facility in Bristol, Conn. But ESPN has recently come up short at a handful of high-profile sports rights auctions including the 2014 and 2016 Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, which ESPN last month lost to Fox Sports.

Added Bodenheimer: “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.”

Skipper hails from Disney’s publishing division. He joined ESPN in 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 United States.
“I am humbled and excited to be given the opportunity by Bob and George to lead this terrific company,” added Skipper, in a statement. “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.

Wall Street analysts in first reactions said the news surprised them a bit, but ESPN would not be hurt by the reshuffle.

RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank said "maybe the timing itself is a surprise." But he emphasized that "Skipper is incredibly well respected and pretty visible," and that ESPN and Disney have a "very deep" executive bench.

Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce also said he was "a little surprised" by the executive reshuffle, saying that Bodenheimer "still appears young." But he also called Skipper "a logical replacement."

Asked about the CEO succession plans at Disney, Joyce said: "I don’t expect [Bodenheimer] would be in line for Disney CEO as [CFO] Jay Rasulo and [theme parks head] Tom Staggs are the most likely successors."

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Georg.Szalai@thr.com