The Tennis Space: People of Influence
Number 2: John Skipper, President of ESPN
Sphere of influence: Tennis on television, around the world.
Last November, Skipper was promoted to become ESPN president and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, a move that makes him the most powerful figure in terms of television rights. The North Carolina native worked for Rolling Stone magazine for several years before joining ESPN and was instrumental last summer in helping the American company secure its prize deal for Wimbledon, snatching the sole rights to live coverage from rivals NBC in a 10-year deal. With live rights to all four grand slams, ESPN were already the number one American broadcaster but with the acquisition of Wimbledon they are now the leading player in the world. With NBC’s star waning – cue cheers from anyone who watched their woefully inadequate (and mostly time-delayed) coverage of the past two Olympic Games – ESPN are setting the standard for others to follow.
As Skipper says: “People know where to come. We will do everything live, everything uninterrupted, all of which I think will be pretty appealing. We believe in presenting live sports when they happen.”
ESPN have always been more universal than many of their American rivals and refreshingly, Skipper is not overly concerned by the absence of “home” stars at the top of the men’s game. While he would love an American man to get in the mix, viewing figures are strong, down to the power of the leading figures at the top of the men’s game. “Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are transcendent stars and I don’t think we have a lot of concern that they aren’t Americans,” he says. “We have benefitted from the Williams sisters and their level of play and personalities, on the women’s side, and I think it’s really more about the star power, the charisma and the talent of the individual players more than the nationality now.”
What next for ESPN?
The farcical scenes at last year’s US Open caused players to utter the “st” word but one person’s crisis is another opportunity. ESPN already has a strong presence at the tournament but it’s no secret that they would love to repeat what they have done at Wimbledon by becoming the lone provider.