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Disney announces ESPN succession, elevating Skipper, Bodenheimer

November 22, 2011 |  9:10 am

George Bodenheimer, who has been running Walt Disney Co.'s lucrative ESPN networks for more than a decade, is stepping back from day-to-day management but plans to remain with the company in the newly created role of ESPN executive chairman.  

John Skipper, 55, is being elevated to ESPN president and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks. For the last six years, Skipper has been executive vice president of ESPN content, overseeing programming and production of ESPN content across all media platforms, including TV, radio and the Internet.  Skipper joined ESPN 14 years ago as general manager of ESPN the Magazine. 

The shift is significant because it marks the first management change at the top of the remarkably stable and profitable network group in 13 years.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger announced the moves, which take effect Jan. 1.

"I am humbled and excited to be given the opportunity by Bob and George to lead this terrific company," Skipper said in a statement.  "I will dedicate all of my energy to follow George's lead in both empowering and supporting my 7,000 ESPN colleagues who do such great work every day."

Bodenheimer, 53, will continue as chairman of the ESPN board. He will provide "strategic direction and support a seamless transition to Skipper," Disney said in its statement.

Bodenheimer wanted to take a less demanding role. 

"We have been focused on succession at all levels of Disney for some time now, and consistent with that approach, George initiated conversations last spring that led to today's announcement," Iger said in statement.

Bodenheimer will continue to report to Iger, while Skipper will answer both to Iger and Bodenheimer. The promotion for Skipper is also notable because it puts him on the same management footing as Anne Sweeney, the other co-chair of Disney Media Networks.  Based in Burbank, Sweeney runs Disney's entertainment channels, including the ABC broadcast network, the Disney Channel and ABC Family.

ESPN has cemented itself as a television juggernaut under Bodenheimer’s 13-year run as its president. Today, the network boasts eight US television networks, five HD services, a 3-D TV network, 48 international networks, 13 international editions of SportsCenter and 750 radio affiliates. ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters has mushroomed into 116 acres, featuring a sophisticated digital production operation.

“With George’s continued presence, John’s experience and vision and an executive management team and workforce that are unparalleled in the sports media business, ESPN is extremely well positioned for continued success,” Iger said.


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-- Meg James  

 Photo: George Bodenheimer, left, and John Skipper. Credit: Steve Fenn, left, and John Atashian