John Skipper, the president of ESPN, announced his resignation from the network on Monday, citing substance abuse issues as the reason for his departure.
“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,” Skipper, 61, said in a statement.
The exit comes at a tumultuous time at the network, as ESPN has been hit with a series of layoffs and subscriber losses in recent years, raising questions about the strategy of the sports juggernaut moving forward.
The official ESPN PR release on ESPN president John Skipper: https://t.co/36apHdIzTx
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) December 18, 2017
Since Skipper took the helm, ESPN has gone from 100 million subscribers down to around 87 million, according to Nielsen estimates.
In addition, under his reign, the network entered into costly contracts with leagues like the NFL that have taken a toll on the company’s financial situation.
For example, in 2011, ESPN renewed its deal to broadcast “Monday Night Football” for $15.2 billion through 2021, a deal some analysts argue will hamper ESPN in the coming years.
Skipper started with the company in 1997 and took over as president in 2012.
And while the core problem is one of so-called “cord-cutting”, critics of the network have also cited ESPN’s increasingly politicized coverage and perceived left-leaning turn for amplifying its struggles in recent years.
Skipper’s resignation takes effect immediately.
“It has been my absolute privilege to serve as president of ESPN,” Skipper told employees in his farewell email.
“I join John Skipper’s many friends and colleagues across the company in wishing him well during this challenging time,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “I respect his candor and support his decision to focus on his health and his family.”
Disney is the parent company of ESPN.
George Bodenheimer, who served as president from 1998 to 2011, will become acting chair of ESPN in the interim and assist Iger in finding a permanent replacement.
“I have great respect for John’s leadership, and I applaud the courage he’s demonstrating by addressing his challenge head on,” Bodenheimer said in a statement. “The most important thing right now for John and his family is that he conquers his addiction, and the entire ESPN family is behind him.”
The news appears to be hitting some on-air talent particularly hard, as host Dan Le Batard broke down in tears while reading Skipper’s statement on his show Monday.
“I care about him,” Le Batard said. “Just so you understand, this person has created everything that exists here at ESPN, for us. And he did it because of how he cares about minorities and their causes. And so every success that we’ve had — I didn’t want to work for ESPN, I wanted to work for this man, okay.”
And still, there’s speculation that there may be more to the story, especially since Disney just completed a sale with 21st Century Fox to buy a significant number of assets from the entertainment giant.
ESPN’s president “resigns” for “substance abuse issues” one month after signing a four year contract extension, five days after addressing all talent in Bristol, & four days after Disney/ESPN deal. So when does the real story come out? https://t.co/nACaTuHE5v
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) December 18, 2017
“ESPN’s president ‘resigns’ for ‘substance abuse issues’ one month after signing a four year contract extension, five days after addressing all talent in Bristol, & four days after Disney/ESPN deal.” sports journalist and ESPN critic Clay Travis tweeted. “So when does the real story come out?”
The blockbuster agreement puts 22 regional sports networks previously owned by Fox under ESPN’s control.
However, Disney maintains that Skipper’s exit is unrelated to its recent transaction.