ESPN president John Skipper, who has worked at ESPN since 1997 and has overseen the company’s growth from television station to multimedia broadcast entity, is stepping down from his position, citing substance addiction.
“I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction. I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem,” Skipper said in a statement. “I have disclosed that decision to the company, and we mutually agreed that it was appropriate that I resign … I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down.”
Skipper has served as president of ESPN since 2012, and under his tenure the network secured long-term rights agreements with the NBA, Major League Baseball, the College Football Playoff and several major college conferences and bowls. ESPN also established agreements with multiple providers outside of the traditional cable-TV spectrum.
But he’s also served during arguably the most tumultuous era in the network’s history, a time when ESPN found itself an unlikely flashpoint for the ongoing everything-is-political environment of America in 2017. ESPN, like other sports media outlets, has reported on athletes taking political stances, like NFL players kneeling during the national anthem and NBA players standing against police violence, but that news hasn’t gone over well with the stick-to-sports crowd. Various ESPN personalities have taken their political views public, further inflaming anti-ESPN sentiment from a particularly loud, populist segment of American society.
More crucially, the network has suffered significant losses as consumers continue to sever ties with traditional cable packages. ESPN paid gargantuan rights fees on the assumption it could continue to charge cable consumers for its services, regardless of whether those consumers actually ever watched ESPN. Cord-cutting has proven the flaw in that business model, and ESPN is suffering through layoffs and cutbacks as a result.
Whoever succeeds Skipper at the helm of ESPN will have a significant challenge ahead, and no easy path back to the mountaintop where the network once stood.
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