SI Media Podcast: Year-End Roundtable on John Skipper's Resignation, 2018 Predictions, More

Richard Deitsch
Sports Illustrated

The reverberations of ESPN president John Skipper’s sudden resignation will continue for some time. At 11:00 a.m. ET on Monday, ESPN announced that Skipper, 62, had resigned from his position, citing a substance addiction problem. In a statement, Bob Iger, chairman and chief executive of The Walt Disney Company, said that former ESPN president and executive chairman George Bodenheimer (who worked at ESPN from 1981 to 2014) will serve as acting chair of the company for the next 90 days, overseeing the transition process. Then Iger will presumably name a fulltime president.

Skepticism is fair. Skipper signed a three-year contract extension with ESPN just last month. But more than that ESPN had recently shifted its external strategy to make Skipper more front and center to push its brand message after an annus horribilis for ESPN employees. Skipper announced in November that approximately 150 staffers had lost their jobs in positions across the company including producers, executives and digital and technology staffers. That followed the layoffs of roughly 100 front-facing staffers last April, including many well-known names in sports journalism. The network has dealt with controversy after controversy—some of it self-inflicted, some of it out of its control. In recent weeks, the company had made clear that Skipper was going to be the point person in an attempt to change the narrative. Skipper has asked for privacy. But, as a captain of media, he likely knows as well as anyone that this announcement—and its curious timing—will spur additional reporting and follow-up.

“John Skipper on Saturday was still emailing business with some of my sources,” said John Ourand, the media reporter the Sports Business Daily. “He was still fully engaged. Nobody saw this coming. The whole idea on addiction issue, nobody had a clue. People were gobsmacked. Utter shock … I ran into roadblock after roadblock trying to report out what happened to cause John Skipper to say, ‘You know what, I am giving it up and going to resign.’”

“It is a huge story, both in personal terms and professionally,” said James Andrew Miller, the bestselling author of the book, These Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World of ESPN and the host of the podcast, “Origins.” “It comes at a critical moment for ESPN given this $52 billion merger [Disney is buying 21st Century Fox assets in a deal worth more than $52 billion in stock]. What we are really talking about is not the Skipper job but a different job that the person who succeeds John Skipper will succeed in title but not succeed in terms of portfolio. It’s a much more complicated job.”

Miller and Ourand are the two of the guests on Episode 150 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast, the longest podcast in the series. The two hour and 45 minute podcast features an end-of-the-year sports media roundtable with nine guests and four segments.

The guests:

• Ourand and Miller.

• Awful Announcing writer Andrew Bucholtz and The Big Lead writer Kyle Koster.

• Sports Media Watch founder and editor Jon Lewis and Sports TV Ratings founder and editor Robert Seidman

Boston Globe sports media writer Chad Finn, Newsday columnist and sports media writer Neil Best, and SI.com writer Jimmy Traina.

On the podcast, Miller and Ourand discuss Skipper’s sudden resignation from ESPN and what it means for the company; whether reporters should be skeptical of the official ESPN statement on the resignation; what people inside ESPN are saying about the Skipper news; which people would be in line for succession; the year in ESPN, including its successes and missteps; Ourand’s predictions column for 2018; the background on Miller’s latest podcast which focuses on ESPN’s social media policy, and much more. Bucholtz and Koster discuss the year in ESPN; the hot take culture in 2017; ESPN’s forays into Snapchat, what they anticipate will be big stories in 2018, and more. Lewis and Seidman discuss the decline in NFL ratings in 2017, the uptick in NBA ratings, what viewership success would be for Mike Greenberg’s new show and more; Finn, Best and Traina discuss Skipper’s resignation, ESPN’s missteps with social media; what’s in store for CBS Sports, Fox Sports and NBC Sports, the future of sports talk radio in 2018, the biggest stories of 2018, and much more.

PODCAST BREAKDOWN

• Skipper’s sudden resignation. — 1:30

• How ESPN’s content philosophy is likely to change without Skipper, and what shows and talent could be impacted. — 11:00

• How this might affect the sports rights deals ESPN has with leagues, and Skipper’s unilateral decision-making policy. — 14:30

• What interim president George Bodenheimer must do now. — 19:00

• How skeptical should reporters and the public be about ESPN’s official statement on why Skipper stepped down. — 24:30

• Who are the favorites to succeed Skipper? — 26:00

• Accessing ESPN’s 2017. — 33:00

• Miler’s “Origins” podcast on ESPN’s social media issues and history. — 41:00

• Ourand’s sports media predictions column for 2018. — 50:00

• Bucholtz and Koster review ESPN’s 2017. — 1:08:00

• ESPN’s approach to social media in 2017. — 1:12:00

• Koster on ESPN’s forays into Snapchat for its SportsCenter brand. — 1:17:00

• Bucholtz on sports hot take culture for 2017. — 1:20:00

• The future of sports OTTs and The Athletic. — 1:23:00

• Lewis and Seidman on NFL and NBA ratings in 2017 and 2018. — 1:33:00

• The viewership prospects of a Mike Greenberg-led TV show. — 1:45:00

• Best, Finn and Traina on the Skipper news. — 1:50:00

• What changes will come to ESPN after Skipper. — 2:07:00

• What will NFL viewership look like in 2018. — 2:14:00

• NBC Sports, FS1, CBS Sports Networks prospects in 2018. — 2:20:00

• Sports-talk radio and where it goes in 2018 — 2:30:00

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