ESPN President John Skipper resigned abruptly yesterday morning despite signing a new multiyear contract extension with the sports network in November. Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis, an outspoken ESPN critic, has several theories about what really might be going on behind the scenes.
Skipper cited substance addiction as the reason for his departure by mutual agreement from the network that describes itself as the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, and its state counterparts, employees can take time off to address health issues and still hold on to their jobs. Skipper ascended to the ESPN presidency on January 1, 2012.
Former president George Bodenheimer is taking over temporarily during the transition to a new boss. Apart from the recent contract renewal through 2021, the timing of Skipper’s exit is even more unusual in that he hosted a mandatory all-company meeting called “Talent Gathering 2017” at its Bristol, Connecticut-based headquarters just last Wednesday, where he was very bullish about ESPN’s future and mentioned nothing about a possible resignation. Sports Illustrated described it as a “big-time pep rally.”
Disney subsidiary ESPN has been drowning in red ink over cord-cutting, declining viewership for various reasons, and overpaying sports leagues for the rights to broadcast their games. In 2017, the company experienced two rounds of layoffs and apparently plans to let existing contracts of many on-air presenters expire when they come due.
Clay Travis noted that corporations and government agencies usually try to hold bad news for Friday afternoon, particularly a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend, when negative developments often fly below the radar, making the Monday announcement an anomaly, or a “PR 101 fail,” as Travis described it on his very NSFW Outkick the Show Periscope broadcast.
“If you thought that your guy could stay out of trouble until Friday, you wait until Friday and announce that John Skipper is stepping down on Friday leading into a holiday weekend…Why do you announce it on Monday morning of all times–because you’re trying to get ahead of a story that’s probably being worked on and vetted by legal at major media companies right now.”
JUST IN: ESPN President John Skipper has resigned: "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.” https://t.co/z8A84qKAjo pic.twitter.com/zXLbIyatxe— ABC News (@ABC) December 18, 2017
Given the planned Disney acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets, one of Travis’ theories is that Disney pushed out Skipper, 61, who also holds the title of co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, to make way for Fox exec James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son.
So the Disney-Fox deal gets announced on Thursday and Skipper "resigns" on Monday. Could this be a quid pro quo opening up a job for the Murdoch son at ESPN?— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) December 18, 2017
A second theory advanced by Travis on his Outkick the Coverage blog is more explosive and comes shortly after the Boston Globe published allegations of sexual harassment at ESPN (ironically, the Globe has harassment issues of its own).
“The timing, at least to anyone with a shred of common sense, suggests something substantial happened behind the scenes in the past several days and something more is coming…So what happened? If I had to guess I’d surmise it was something to do with sexual harassment or an internal investigation that discovered some inappropriate behavior on Skipper’s part. (Inappropriate behavior that can be blamed on substance abuse)…My guess is there is a major blockbuster story coming and this is ESPN’s attempt to beat that story to the punch and blame Skipper for everything.”
This timing is very strange. ESPN just announced a multi-year extension for John Skipper last month. There are execs dropping like crazy for inappropriate behavior. Bigger story coming? I’d bet so.— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) December 18, 2017
For months on end, sexual harassment allegations in the entertainment and media industries, as well as politics, have dominated the headlines, but it’s pure speculation as to whether that may apply in this particular situation.
Clay Travis has also been one of the pundits criticizing ESPN under its skipper John Skipper for its struggling business model (comparing it to the defunct Blockbuster Video) and for its emphasis on social justice issues, rather than just delivering games and game highlights, thereby alienating a significant portion of its audience. Parenthetically, at the company meeting, ESPN employees were encouraged to avoid taking to social media to comment on political issues.
Sports Illustrated suggests that it is reasonable to have some skepticism over the stated reason for the John Skipper resignation, particularly in view of the recent controversies that the sports network found itself in.
“…ESPN had recently shifted its external strategy to make Skipper more front and center to push its brand message after an annus horribilis for ESPN employees…The network has dealt with controversy after controversy—some of it self-inflicted, some of it out of its control. In recent weeks, the company had made clear that Skipper was going to be the point person in an attempt to change the narrative. Skipper has asked for privacy. But, as a captain of media, he likely knows as well as anyone that this announcement—and its curious timing—will spur additional reporting and follow-up.”
Clay Travis expounds below on the bombshell ESPN President John Skipper resignation during the above-referenced very NSFW Periscope broadcast.