ESPN's Top Content Executive Connor Schell Departing to Launch Production Company

Connor Schell
Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

ESPN will be the first client of Schell's production outfit, as the cable sports giant restructures its senior executive team.

ESPN is restructuring its senior executive leadership team, following the news last week that it would be reducing its workforce by 500 positions.

Among the most notable departures: Connor Schell, ESPN's executive vp of content, who will leave in January. Schell is creating his own production company, and ESPN will be its first client. Schell's company "will work closely with ESPN Films and other senior executives to produce 30 for 30 films and The ESPYS," the company says.

Another significant departure is 32-year ESPN veteran Jodi Markley, the channel's executive vp of content operations & creative services, who will retire in April.

In the wake of Markley and Schell's departures, Disney ESPN and sports content chairman Jimmy Pitaro named a new senior leadership team, all reporting to him.

The new team will include senior vp Rob King, who will oversee ESPN's journalistic direction; Tina Thoronton, who will lead content operations as senior vp; and executive vp of programming and original content Burke Magnus, who will add oversight of ESPN and ESPN+ original content development and scheduling.

Other executives named include communications chief Chris LaPlaca, finance chief Thomas Hennessy; head of marketing and social media Laura Gentile; vp of strategy and office of the chairman Chara-Lynn Aguiar; head of event and studio production Stephanie Druley; chief counsel Diane Morse; head of HR Paul Richardson; and Mark Walker, senior vp of content business development and innovation.

In addition, Kevin Merida, senior vp and head of The Undefeated, will continue to lead that venture and "will also partner closely with the Disney General Entertainment and Hulu teams to expand this groundbreaking property," the company says.

"I am so thankful to Jimmy Pitaro and Bob Iger for their creative leadership and to my remarkable colleagues across ESPN whose work inspires and entertains sports fans every single day," said Schell in a statement. "As I launch this new production company, I am excited to transition back to a role where I can more directly tell stories and I couldn’t think of a better way to get started than continuing to work on 30 for 30 with Jimmy and ESPN.”

“When Jodi and Connor each approached me about starting their next chapters, those conversations were filled with mixed emotions," said Pitaro in a statement. "Jodi has been a trailblazer, not just at ESPN, but throughout our industry, and, because of her entrepreneurial approach, ESPN has always led the way. Connor is an exceptional storyteller who has led some of the biggest content success stories in all of media. He brings great vision and passion to his work and that’s why I’m particularly pleased that he will continue to partner with ESPN on our film development and ESPYS initiatives in his new role. I am very happy for both of them; they have accomplished so much here and will certainly be missed at ESPN."