John Skipper has announced that he is stepping down as president of ESPN and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks.
The 61-year-old, who joined the US cable giant in 1997 and took over as president in 2012, has attributed his resignation to a long-term struggle with a substance addiction problem. Just last month, various media outlets reported that Skipper had agreed a three-year contract extension until 2021, although those reports were never officially confirmed.
George Bodenheimer, who served as ESPN’s president between 1998 and 2011, will step in as the acting chairman of the company for the next 90 days to help Disney chairman and chief executive officer Bob Iger find a replacement.
The news comes less than a week after ESPN’s parent company, the Walt Disney Company, completed a US$52.4 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox's entertainment properties, including Fox’s family of 22 US-based regional sports networks (RSNs). It is anticipated that those RSNs will be rebranded by ESPN, which will also launch a new digital OTT service in the spring following Disney’s takeover of video streaming specialist BAMTech and a long-term decline in subscriber numbers for ESPN as viewers move away from traditional broadcast platforms.
“Today I have resigned from my duties as president of ESPN,” Skipper said in a statement. “I have had a wonderful career at the Walt Disney Company and am grateful for the many opportunities and friendships. I owe a debt to many, but most profoundly Michael Lynton, George Bodenheimer and Bob Iger.
“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. I have disclosed that decision to the company, and we mutually agreed that it was appropriate that I resign. I will always appreciate the human understanding and warmth that Bob displayed here and always.
“I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down. To my colleagues at ESPN, it has been a privilege. I take great pride in your accomplishments and have complete confidence in your collective ability to continue ESPN's success.”
“I join John Skipper's many friends and colleagues across the company in wishing him well during this challenging time,” Iger added in a statement. "I respect his candour and support his decision to focus on his health and his family.”