TopOfTheCircle.com

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Dec. 18, 2017 — A world-wide leader without its leader?

Today, it was announced that ESPN President John Skipper was resigning his position to deal with what are being called “substance abuse issues.”

For a company which has lost 10 million subscribers, lost a lot of good will because of continuing revelations of sexual abuse and harassment, as well as the creation of a hostile work environment to women, today’s announcement does very little to quell the impression that ESPN is little more than a frat house.

Skipper, in the last six years, has bolstered the ESPN brand in an unusual way: through journalism and storytelling. ESPN has produced a two-hour documentary called The Book of Manning that I never tire of watching. It also produced O.J.: Made in America, a documentary of such quality (and length) that it prompted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to change the rules as to what constitutes a documentary.

At the same time, Skipper had a number of issues when it came to sustaining its world-wide leadership in sports television. Skipper, when Fox Sports 1 was just starting up, was so afraid he was going to lose personalities such as Stuart Scott, that he was about to triple his salary to have him stay in Connecticut.

Skipper need not have worried; FS1 has still been completely unable to produce a sportscast of any reasonable quality since the network begun broadcasting in 2013.

But ESPN has had its own management problems, many of them predicated on a lack of money coming from millions of households dropping cable packages and instead adopting pay-as-you-go services such as Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, and Sling.

There has been plenty of accusations about sexual harassment at the network, and there are hints of more such stories to come.

But I think there’s one more shortcoming to Skipper that has come to define him, and that’s a lack of leadership. The ESPN family of networks is heading into its final year of broadcasting IndyCar events, but laid off its top play-by-play racing guy (Allen Bestwick) and pit reporter (Jerry Punch) in one of the recent rounds of layoffs several weeks ago. We’re less than six months from the next Indy 500, and there’s nobody ready to call the race for ABC? That’s unheard of.

I don’t envy the next head of ESPN when it comes to keeping all of these aspects of business together.

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