ESPN has re-set its senior executive team in the wake of Connor Schell’s exit and Jodi Markley’s retirement. (Oh yeah, and those 500 cut jobs last week.)
Schell, who is leaving to form his own production company (with ESPN as its first client) was in charge of all-non sports programming and was instrumental in the network’s documentary content. He is best known for co-creating ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary franchise with Bill Simmons, and was an executive producer on “O.J.: Made in America” and “The Last Dance.” He was one of the network’s top lieutenants under Jimmy Pitaro, who serves as chairman of ESPN and other sports content at Disney, alongside Burke Magnus, who headed up programming and scheduling.
Markley, meanwhile, who served as executive vice president, Content Operations & Creative Services, has chosen to retire after 32 years.
Schell’s role will not be formally replaced but rather split across multiple executives. For example, Magnus will add original content oversight to his role, while Laura Gentile (see below) will add social media content to her purview. Some of Schell’s direct reports will now report to ESPN boss Jimmy Pitaro.
Last week, ESPN said it would be laying off 300 staffers and scrapping 200 open positions in an effort to shift more resources toward ESPN’s direct-to-consumer business strategy, digital content and “continued innovative television experiences.”
“When Jodi and Connor each approached me about starting their next chapters, those conversations were filled with mixed emotions,” Pitaro said in a statement. “Jodi has been a trailblazer, not just at ESPN, but throughout our industry, and, because of her entrepreneurial approach, ESPN has always led the way. Connor is an exceptional storyteller who has led some of the biggest content success stories in all of media. He brings great vision and passion to his work and that’s why I’m particularly pleased that he will continue to partner with ESPN on our film development and ESPYS initiatives in his new role. I am very happy for both of them; they have accomplished so much here and will certainly be missed at ESPN.”
“Going forward, our newly-formed senior leadership group is poised to drive future success,” Pitaro continued. “The talented team is comprised of gifted and respected leaders. They are diverse thinkers who bring a collaborative spirit and a necessary focus on future strategy. I’m thrilled to have them as colleagues.”
“It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of ESPN over the past 32 years,” Markley said. “I am proud of the industry-leading innovation and creativity of our team, and feel blessed to have worked alongside such incredibly talented people who love what they do. I am confident in the direction we are headed under Jimmy Pitaro and will enjoy my next chapter as a fan.”
“ESPN is an incredible place and it has been a true privilege to be a part of this team for the past 16+ years,” Schell said. “I am so thankful to Jimmy Pitaro and Bob Iger for their creative leadership and to my remarkable colleagues across ESPN whose work inspires and entertains sports fans every single day. As I launch this new production company, I am excited to transition back to a role where I can more directly tell stories and I couldn’t think of a better way to get started than continuing to work on 30 for 30 with Jimmy and ESPN.”
Below is the (somewhat) new-look team under Jimmy Pitaro.
Chara-Lynn Aguiar, vice president, strategy and office of the chairman, will continue to focus on ESPN’s strategic development and serve as an advisor to the chairman and his direct reports, providing insight and managing a wide variety of internal and external relationships.
Stephanie Druley, executive vice president, event and studio production, will co-lead ESPN’s production area, including “Monday Night Football,” college football, NBA, studio and event production.
Laura Gentile, senior vice president, marketing & social media, will be responsible for the creative marketing for the ESPN brand, including all shows and platforms, special events and will also pick up responsibility for its social media content.
Thomas Hennessy, senior vice president, finance, will manage ESPN’s financial matters and budgets, in collaboration with colleagues at The Walt Disney Company.
Rob King, senior vice president, editor-at-large, will be responsible for the company’s overall journalistic direction, working closely with leaders across ESPN Films and original content, digital content, social media, multi-platform journalism and storytelling and global content, and will advise ESPN and its senior leadership team on editorial issues.
Chris LaPlaca, senior vice president, communications, will lead internal and external communications efforts.
Burke Magnus, executive vice president, programming and original content, will oversee programming acquisition and scheduling, and now be responsible for ESPN and ESPN+ original content development and scheduling.
Kevin Merida, senior vice president and editor-in-chief, The Undefeated, will lead this expanding platform that showcases the intersection of race, culture and sports, and will also partner closely with the Disney General Entertainment and Hulu teams to expand this groundbreaking property.
Diane Morse, chief counsel, will guide ESPN on all legal matters and governmental affairs.
Paul Richardson, senior vice president, human resources, will oversee the wide-ranging HR functions, including diversity and inclusion, corporate citizenship and security.
Tina Thornton, senior vice president, content operations, formerly in the office of the president, will now lead ESPN’s remote operations and events, creative works and creative Services, ESPN Synergy, and the ESPN Next program, among other responsibilities.
Mark Walker, senior vice president, content business development and Innovation, will be responsible for identifying and developing collaborative relationships to drive ESPN’s content initiatives forward.
Norby Williamson, executive vice president and executive editor, will co-lead ESPN’s production area, including its flagship “SportsCenter,” “Get Up” and “First Take” studio shows and event production, as well as cross-platform journalism and storytelling.