Who will succeed John Skipper at ESPN

When John Skipper made his unexpected announcement on Monday morning that he could be resigning from his put up as President of ESPN, the hypothesis about who would succeed him started virtually instantly.

And why not?

For two.5 years now, the largest overhang on Disney’s inventory has been the narrative of “ESPN is useless” because it continues to shed linear subscribers. For 20 years, ESPN has been super-charging Disney’s inventory value as its profitability has elevated via rising affiliate and promoting revenues. Its success within the cable bundle world made Wall Road most nervous in regards to the common decline of linear subscribers.

That is why Disney’s introduced deal final week to purchase the 21st Century Fox belongings for $52 billion was so vital. It adjustments that narrative utterly for Disney’s inventory for 2 causes:

  1. It lessens ESPN’s profitability as a proportion of Disney’s total mixed revenues and;
  2. It gives ESPN with a lot extra sports activities content material that it additional strengthens ESPN’s case that it’s the dominant sports activities model within the US (and now way more internationally than earlier than), and that viewers must proceed subscribing whether or not they’re within the linear or Over-The-High (OTT) worlds.

Skipper was tremendously well-liked inside ESPN. Nevertheless, he was gradual to rise up to hurry on greatest talk ESPN’s strengths within the face of the “ESPN is useless” narrative. That improved loads within the final 12 months.

Along with his sudden departure, Disney has the chance to pick out a brand new President who can additional proceed to win over Wall Road’s belief that he/she has a strong plan for preserving ESPN’s income excessive and serving to them navigate into the brand new world of OTT.

Who will that particular person be?

John Ourand of Sports activities Enterprise Each day has a good short-list of inside and exterior candidates. Bloomberg, the New York Occasions, and the Wall Road Journal have additionally chimed in with their concepts. I recorded a podcast yesterday discussing the various candidates.

Should you had been going to order up a perfect subsequent ESPN President from central casting, she or he would have the next traits:

  • Sturdy chief
  • Effectively-liked inside the corporate, by executives at Disney in Burbank, and by Wall Road
  • Somebody with related profitable media expertise, in addition to success in digital/cell/social/OTT from the tech house at name-brand firms
  • A superb communicator who can spin the brand new “ESPN is dominant in sports activities” narrative to traders credibly
  • Somebody who is aware of handle successfully a corporation with hundreds of staff relatively than has solely labored at firms with staff within the dozens

After all, there will not be any silver bullet candidate who checks all of the containers, and the bias will at all times go to an inside candidate over an exterior one (all issues being equal). That stated, listed here are the names who’ve been talked about thus far in addition to one I believe needs to be within the combine.

  • Justin Connolly, Connor Schell, and Burke Magnus. All report in to John Skipper right this moment. Connolly has obtained in all probability essentially the most consideration of the three as far as a possible successor. All three are very proficient of their completely different areas and all are longstanding staff of the corporate.
  • Kevin Mayer. At present head of technique for Disney. Labored very carefully with Bob Iger on the Fox deal and the BAM Tech deal earlier than that. Has been with Disney for a very long time and obtained many phrases of assist final week from Iger for his function within the Fox deal. He’ll be essential to now integrating these belongings, assuming the deal will get regulatory approval.
  • Jimmy Pitaro. At present the pinnacle of Disney’s Shopper Merchandise group and was head of Disney Interactive earlier than that. Effectively-liked inside Disney. Labored at Yahoo as head of media earlier than Disney. Effectively-connected with a bunch of sensible digital folks within the Valley.
  • Sean Bratches. Misplaced out on the highest job at ESPN to John Skipper a number of years in the past. Was head of gross sales and advertising at ESPN earlier than that. Now runs F1 Industrial enterprise and is predicated in London. In all probability the highest outsider for the job now. Was well liked by George Bodenheimer who’s now appearing head of ESPN for the following 90 days.
  • David Preschlack. NBC Sports activities Regional Sports activities President.
  • David Berson. CBS Sports activities President.
  • Mark Shapiro. Co-President of WME-IMG however labored as a high exec at ESPN again within the early 2000s.
  • Christine McCarthy. Present CFO for Disney.
  • Sheryl Sandberg. Would she depart the #2 job at Facebook? I am undecided. I’ve beforehand stated I believe she’d be a robust contender to succeed Iger sooner or later. She’s on the Disney board. However I’ve heard not too long ago within the final six months that she’s very completely satisfied at Fb and would not need to depart. Would she be keen to take the ESPN job earlier than competing for Iger’s job in 2021? I am undecided she’d need to quit what she’s acquired.
  • Jeff Weiner. I am going to add this identify to this checklist. Jeff is the present head of LinkedIn which is owned by Microsoft. I’ve beforehand stated that I believe he’d be a fantastic candidate for the Disney job sooner or later as a result of he began his profession at Warner Brothers. I’ve heard that Jeff might sooner or later be thought-about a successor to Satya Nadella at Microsoft. But when he needs to interchange Bob Iger, turning ESPN into an enormous success within the subsequent four years may very well be the ticket to get that job.
  • George Bodenheimer. He is youthful than John Skipper. Despite the fact that he is been out of the highest job at ESPN for six years now, might he be satisfied to return again completely?

To me, I believe each one of these names may very well be profitable within the high ESPN job. A Sandberg or Weiner would in all probability most impress Wall Road at first. The interior names (together with former ESPNers) would possible go over effectively in Bristol, Connecticut, the place ESPN is headquartered.

So, let’s flip to the query of who’s most definitely to get the job. I’ll say Kevin Mayer. Here is why.

I consider Bob Iger likes him loads and actually trusts Kevin. Mayer is wise, succesful, and has completed the large transformational offers that we consider after we consider Disney. However he is at all times been a method man at Disney and people folks do not get the highest CEO job with out some profitable working expertise. If Kevin needs the highest job – and few folks climbing the company ladder for many years do not – he is aware of that he must go run one thing.

The ESPN job is not a slam dunk however, if completed effectively, it could be a feather within the cap for that particular person and make them a robust contender to succeed Iger (though there could be others like James Murdoch, in addition to outsiders, contending for it). If Mayer goes to Bristol and does effectively, he would have a fantastic resume for the CEO job.

If he takes the job, pehaps Bodenheimer may very well be satisfied to stay an energetic Chair at ESPN to assist coach Kevin within the new working function for the following few years.

If Mayer needs the job, I believe that Iger would need to assist him getting it. We’ll in all probability discover out someday within the subsequent 90 days.

[Affiliates controlled by Eric Jackson have long positions in DIS]

Commentary by Eric Jackson, join Eric’s month-to-month Tech & Media Email. You possibly can observe Eric on Twitter

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