ESPN has announced the resignation of the network CEO John Skipper, citing a substance addiction problem.
The resignation announcement stunned the sports media business
It comes at a crucial time for the network with the recent merger acquiring 21st Century Fox.
“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,” Mr. Skipper said in a statement. “I have disclosed that decision to the company, and we mutually agreed that it was appropriate that I resign.”
Skipper’s predecessor, George Bodenheimer, the former head of ESPN, will return to as acting chairman for three months. During that time, a search for a permanent successor will occur.
Without Skipper, the already difficult task of remaking ESPN for the digital era could be even more arduous. The network is trying to rebuild the profitability of its TV business for a media environment in which more consumers are cutting back on cable-TV subscriptions and turning to streaming services.
The network is also reeling from the recent NFL boycott started when Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem. Viewership has plummeted.
The network’s next leader will be responsible for launching a new streaming service this spring called ESPN Plus.
The service will air sporting events, including baseball and hockey games, that don’t generally appear on the cable-TV network. The new president will inherit a workforce that is uneasy after several rounds of layoffs.
“It’s a big deal,” said sports-industry consultant Marc Ganis of Mr. Skipper’s exit. “John has been a major part of the planning for Disney’s digital initiative and streaming services, while at the same time dealing with cord-cutting and cost-cutting as well as ESPN’s role in society as a journalistic entity.”
The next leader of ESPN will have a a major task helping to accomplish many goals ESPN has already set as well as fixing some major issues.