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November 22, 2011 8:28 pm
George Bodenheimer is stepping down as president of ESPN after 13 years at the top of the sports cable network, which is owned by Walt Disney. He will be replaced by John Skipper, his deputy.
Mr Bodenheimer, who will become executive chairman of ESPN, will relinquish day-to-day operating responsibilities after turning the network into one of Disney’s most profitable operating divisions.
He has led ESPN into new areas. The network has launched a digital platform, expanded internationally and acquired the rights to football and cricket alongside US sports such as basketball, American football and baseball. The ESPN recently extended its coverage of the National Football League by eight years in a deal worth $15.2bn.
“We’ve focused on succession at all levels of Disney for some time now, and consistent with that approach, George initiated conversations last spring,” which led to the decision to step down, said Bob Iger, Disney’s chief executive.
Mr Bodenheimer said that “after 13 years as president, I felt it was a good time to step away from the day-to-day management of ESPN and let others take the lead”.
Mr Skipper will take over a network that has weathered the recession and advertising slowdown thanks to a large audience of male viewers that advertisers covet.
However, ESPN is waiting to see if the National Basketball Association season goes ahead following a disagreement between players and owners of the teams over pay.
The players recently disbanded their union and launched class action lawsuits against the league following months of deadlock over a new collective bargaining agreement.
The NBA is a centrepiece of ESPN’s winter schedule but Mr Iger recently played down the impact of the lockout during Disney’s quarterly earnings call. “Our broad portfolio of rights will enable us to effectively program ESPN without the NBA,” he said.
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