Friday, October 06, 2006

ESPN's Skipper: "They'll Bring In Some Stars"

I work on the business side of the media industry. This morning I had the good fortune of attending an industry breakfast with John Skipper, EVP, Content for ESPN (pictured).

John is responsible for the creation, programming, and production of ESPN and ABC sports content across all media platforms.

Skipper recently signed the ESPN contract delivering MLS its first rights fee. As part of the deal, ESPN will take over production of MLS broadcasts on the Disney networks starting next year, saving the league millions of dollars.

Here's a summary of Skipper's comments:

  • "I have the best job in America... to walk into bars and impress men... not that that's my intention." (Got big laughs)
  • Ingrained in the ESPN culture is the notion that "we serve fans. Fans decide what content is available, we don't."
  • "Our intention is to be the leader in every area, print, web, TV, radio, Spanish...the goal is to make the other guys in front worry about us"
  • "We're getting back to what people care about: games. In the last year, we've built our portfolio of properties, including:
    • NASCAR (Feb .07)
    • Big Ten
    • Big East
    • World Cup through 2014"
  • "Eventually, soccer will work. Some folks don't believe it, but they don't have the assets that we have."
  • "We'll be creating content to support our properties. For instance, we'll have 10 hours of NASCAR documentaries in Feb '07, to be shown each weeknight in primetime the week preceding ESPN's first NASCAR race on Saturday night. The documentaries will populate a "100 Greatest Moments of NASCAR" property to be:
    • Counted down on SportsCenter
    • Turned into a feature in the magazine
    • Rolled out on and ESPN 360 Broadband service
    • Turned into a coffee table book
  • Q: "Do the NFL and NBA TV networks create a concern for you?"
    • "No, most sports fans are fans of more than one sport... also, we can report on tough league issues that they won't."
    • "For instance the NHL is talking of starting a network. They're having trouble getting half a million people to watch for two hours... what are they going to do for 24 hours a day?"
    • "We will continue to co-exist with these networks... until they go out of business."

On the recently failed ESPN Mobile service...

  • "Mobile was the opportunity to make the most money in the wireless space."
  • "We thought that phone number portability was the key to get folks to move to our service... we didn't count on wireless companies' aggressive retention programs... they give away $300 pieces of hardware to keep customers... If you think Sports Illustrated in tough, Verizon is a mother. That said, we intend to be #1 in wireless sports content distribution."

I approached Skipper afterwards and thanked him for supporting soccer and MLS. He said that he was at the Red Bulls-Chicago match on Saturday night. He said that next year "the league will bring in some stars... we'll have some original content around MLS... Thursday night MLS matches will get the TNT-NBA treatment."

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