Since taking the helm as ESPN President and Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks on January 1, 2012, John Skipper has secured ESPN’s leadership position in the crowded sports media landscape into the next decade with bold moves and a commitment to championship events delivered across every available platform. Throughout, he has continued to foster what he calls “our best strategic advantage – the people and culture of ESPN.”
Most noteworthy, Skipper has led ESPN to a series of long-term, multiplatform agreements with major rightsholders (all through at least 2021) and distributors:
• Major League Baseball, the College Football Playoff, ACC, Big 12, US Open tennis, Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls, WNBA, American Athletic Conference, Mountain West Conference
• In addition, ESPN and the SEC announced a 20-year agreement to create and operate the ESPN SEC Network and digital platforms, while extending the existing media rights agreement through 2034.
• Cablevision, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, AT&T U-Verse, National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NTRC)
As President, Skipper has emphasized two ESPN hallmarks – always looking ahead and embracing technology to serve sports fans. The largest example will debut in May 2014, a 195,000-square-foot Digital Center 2 at the Connecticut headquarters. The facility, ESPN’s largest building by far, will include numerous technical firsts and is designed to fulfill the growing commitment to mobile offerings.
With an eye on fulfilling ESPN’s mission to serve sports fans and growing ESPN’s audience at home and abroad, Skipper has also strongly supported the evolution of the critically acclaimed ESPN Films sports documentary series; the growth of the company’s multimedia business in Latin America; multiplatform Spanish-language ESPN Deportes; and espnW, a digital initiative launched in 2010 to better serve female sports fans.
According to Skipper, to maintain the company’s competitive edge, such growth, change and innovation are essential. “ESPN is deeply woven into the lives of sports fans, yet we continue to seek new avenues to inform and entertain,” he says, adding, “We must act like an insurgent, not an incumbent.”
An energetic and insightful collaborator who embraces teamwork and intelligent debate to come to decisions, Skipper’s business relationships are defined by finding “win-win” solutions in an increasingly complicated global media landscape. Not surprisingly, he is who ESPN strives to serve – a passionate sports fan – and he is extremely focused on driving business and creative success, earning him the respect of colleagues and competitors alike. Indeed, within his first year after ascending to the top spot, he was named the most influential person in sports bySports Business Journal.
Skipper, 58, had been ESPN’s executive vice president, Content, since October 2005, responsible for the creation, programming and production of ESPN content across all media platforms, including television, radio, Internet, broadband, wireless, print, interactive games and home entertainment. He had been executive vice president, advertising sales & ESPN Enterprises, since August 2004.
In his 14 years with the company prior to becoming President, Skipper was a key architect of ESPN’s explosive growth. He played leadership roles overseeing the company’s television, digital, print and advertising sales initiatives, as well as ESPN’s focus on brand extensions, bringing the company’s “best available screen” philosophy to life across more platforms and with more wide-ranging major rights agreements than at any time since ESPN’s launch in 1979. This strategy – along with an emphasis on live sports – has strengthened ESPN’s unparalleled relationship with fans while meeting the growing business needs of ESPN’s distributors and advertisers.
Under his leadership, ESPN consistently set records for television ratings and digital consumption, and negotiated several wide-ranging, major rights agreements with the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, the BCS, FIFA, the Masters Tournament, the British Open, the USTA, Wimbledon and several college conferences. Each of those agreements was marked by a significant change that took hold under Skipper – a wide swath of multimedia rights that went well beyond just television to include all forms of media, and terms that extended for a much longer period of time, sometimes a decade or more. This change of approach envisioned an evolving media world driven by the marriage of technology with content, and established stability for ESPN and all of its business partners for years to come.
Skipper’s ability to meld creative and business success was demonstrated early when he joined ESPN in June 1997 as senior vice president and general manager of ESPN The Magazine. He oversaw one of the most successful magazine launches of the 1990s. During its inaugural year, the magazine earned more than 20 awards, including “Best New Magazine” honors from bothAdvertising Age and AdWeek magazines, as well as a 1999 National Magazine Award for design. In January 2000, he added the same title for ESPN.com and in January 2003 was promoted to executive vice president.
Skipper’s early vision on how content should be presented on digital platforms continues to pay dividends today. With ESPN.com in 2000, he began the shift to broadband from dial-up well before broadband was widely available; launched a pay section, ESPN Insider, with richer content that continues to grow, and completely revamped the site’s approach to advertising. More recently, he envisioned and launched what is now ESPN3, a television network delivering 4,000 live events annually on the web and through mobile devices; helped lead the creation of the Watch ESPN authenticated app which has been downloaded more than four million times, and led the evolution of ESPN the Magazine’s content to include print and digital platforms.
Skipper’s tenure overseeing customer marketing and sales was comparatively brief but very impactful – he worked closely with sales leaders to create a truly integrated, cross platform sales force that continues to lead the industry today.
Accomplishments, Awards and Accolades
During his years leading Content, the collective audience for ESPN’s domestic television networks rose 31%, and weekly users of all of ESPN’s cross-platform content rose 25% to more than 101 million fans. In both 2010 and 2011, ESPN’s U.S. networks combined to set records for the most-watched fiscal year in the company’s history.
ESPN also continued to distinguish itself with dozens of prestigious industry awards, including 36 Sports Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards and several GLAAD, NABJ and NAMIC Vision awards. During his tenure leading the Magazine and ESPN.com, the company has won two General Excellence Awards given by the American Society of Magazine Editors (2003, 2006) and the ONA Online Journalism Award for General Excellence in 2003. ESPN.com also won EPpy Awards (given by Editor & Publisher) for best cable network website and best sports website twice in the past 10 years (2006, 2009).
Skipper has frequently appeared on several media and cable industry “most influential” lists, including Sports Business Journal, CableFAX Magazine, Business Week and The Sporting News.
Prior to ESPN
Before joining ESPN The Magazine, Skipper served nearly three years as senior vice president of The Disney Publishing Group where he was in charge of all Disney’s magazine, book and licensed publishing operations in the United States. Since 1990, Skipper was vice president of Disney Magazine publishing, overseeing Disney Adventures, Discover, FamilyFun and Family PC.
Prior to joining The Disney Publishing Group, Skipper held the title of president and publishing director at Spin magazine. Earlier he spent 10 years with Straight Arrow Publishing including eight years with Rolling Stone. At Straight Arrow, he rose to publisher of US magazine.
Skipper holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Literature from the University of North Carolina and Columbia University, respectively. He is married with two sons.
Jan. 1, 2012 President, ESPN; Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks
Oct. 2005 Executive Vice President, Content
Aug. 2004 Executive Vice President, Advertising Sales & ESPN Enterprises
Jan. 2003 Executive Vice President, ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com
Jan. 2000 SVP and GM, ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com
June 1997 SVP and GM, ESPN the Magazine
July 1994 SVP, The Disney Publishing Group
Nov. 1990 VP, Disney Magazine Publishing
Jan. 1990 President & Publishing Director, Spin Magazine
May 1979 Straight Arrow Publishing