James Pitaro Named New President Of ESPN, Replacing John Skipper

Entryway sign to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, located in Orlando, FL.

The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, located in Orlando, FL.
Photo credit: Brazil Photo / Shutterstock

ESPN might be the worldwide leader when it comes to TV sports coverage, but for nearly three months, it was lacking in leadership at the top ranks. That is now set to change, as The New York Times reports that James Pitaro, previously the chairman of consumer products and interactive at Disney, is stepping in as the company’s president. Pitaro fills a position that had been vacant since December, when John Skipper stepped down suddenly, citing a substance addiction.

Pitaro has been a major player in the media industry for almost two decades. He got his start in 2001 at Yahoo, where he quickly climbed the ranks and became vice president for media. In 2010, he moved to Disney, the parent company that owned ESPN, and managed a business unit that included gaming. Since 2015, he had been serving as co-chairman of Disney’s consumer products division.

“Jimmy forged his career at the intersection of technology, sports and media, and his vast experience and keen perspective will be invaluable in taking ESPN into the future,” said Robert Iger, chairman and chief executive of Disney

“Some of the best experiences of my professional career were working with the sports business,” Pitaro added. “I always knew in my heart I would return. This is a dream come true.”‘

ESPN has been relatively successful in recent years from a fiscal standpoint, but challenges still lie ahead. The New York Times reported that Disney made $55.1 billion in revenue and $14.8 billion in operating profit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Media networks (primarily ESPN) had $23.5 billion revenue and $6.9 billion profit. To stay afloat, though, Pitaro will need to compete in an environment where cord-cutting is rampant and subscribers are dropping like flies.

Pitaro has pledged to try bold new things when ESPN’s situation calls for it. ESPN is already hard at work buying out assets from 21st Century Fox, including 22 regional sports networks. It’s also poised to launch ESPN Plus, a new sports streaming service, later this year.

“I come from the digital world, and spent most of my career building and investing in new media products,” Pitaro said.

ESPN Facing Major Layoffs

A photo of an ESPN microphone.

Photo credit: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock

ESPN is the latest organization to be hit by the digital craze. The sports network is laying off 100 employees this week (mostly on-air talent) hitting every facet of the organization as ESPN is moving toward a mostly digitized medium.

Sources say the decision comes after an increasing amount of costs and decreasing number of cable subscribers have cut into its bottom line. For a network that has spent billions of dollars in deals with major sports teams and events, layoffs are no surprise to anyone. So who is getting hit? Well, some big names at the network.

Yesterday, Deadspin posted a number of tweets from ESPN anchors, writers, and reporters who were given the bad news, some of who worked at the network for decades.

NFL Reporter Ed Werder was one of the first to go.

“After 17 years reporting on #NFL, I’ve been informed that I’m being laid off by ESPN effective immediately. I have no plans to retire,” he tweeted.

“SportsCenter” Anchor Jay Crawford, Big Ten Reporter Brian Bennett, and MLB Writer Jayson Stark are some of the other talent who are now gone. College Basketball reporter C.L. Brown found out about his firing while on vacation.

ESPN President John Skipper noted how difficult this decision was, thanking the former employees for their “great work” and “many contributions,” yet made it clear that the layoffs had to be done.

“Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value,” Skipper stated, “and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent–anchors, analysts, reporters, writers, and those who handle play-by-play–necessary to meet those demands.”

Many of the people laid off were at the end of their contracts and unwilling to take a massive pay cut. The rest of which were bought out of their contracts.

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