Behind The ScenesStarting 5

Jimmy Pitaro meets ESPN colleagues

New ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro addresses employees at ESPN’s Bristol Campus. (Allen Kee/ESPN Images)

BRISTOL, Conn. – Joined by more than 600 of his new colleagues, ESPN President and Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks James Pitaro today told employees, “I spent years competing with ESPN and it wasn’t easy. I’m excited to dig in as part of the team.”

Marking the start of his second week as ESPN’s eighth president, Pitaro spent 60 minutes discussing his immediate and long-term goals at a gathering inside the gymnasium at the company’s headquarters.

“When we have staff meetings, I have a saying – discuss, debate, decide, align,” said Pitaro, in an event that was available via livestream to all ESPN’s 8,000 domestic and international employees. “So I want to make sure we have an opportunity to discuss the important, meaty topics, that we debate them. Ultimately, we decide and if we can’t, then I decide. Then the time for questioning is over; we align and we move on. And I think that is a natural extension of being part of a team.”

Pitaro joins ESPN at a time of great opportunity for the company, as it readies the launch of its new direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service. ESPN+ will offer a dynamic lineup of thousands of live sporting events, original content and an unmatched library of award-winning on-demand programming. The service will be integrated into a completely reimagined ESPN App that will serve as the all-in-one, personalized digital destination for all that ESPN offers, including scores, news, highlights and authenticated live streaming of ESPN’s eight U.S. networks.

“The strategy this team has put in place is incredibly smart in terms of not fighting this disruption but rather embracing it and saying ‘Okay, what are we doing about it?’” said Pitaro, who then referenced the upcoming launch of ESPN’s direct to consumer product, ESPN+ and the reimagined ESPN App experience.

Pitaro went on to stress “the importance of diversity and inclusion within ESPN. We will continue to make it a priority at this company,” he said. “You have my word on that – that is my commitment. I think it is imperative that we have a workforce that is representative of the audience that we have consuming our ESPN products.

“When we hear our brand mentioned or when we see our shiny red letters – what do we want the fans to think, what do we want the fan to feel? Today our brand is the most beloved brand in the industry without a doubt; no one can challenge that. But at the same time, we can’t rest,” he said. “How do we as a team shine an even brighter light on that brand? How do we continue to add strength to that brand, especially in this new world that we’re operating in?”

In response to an employee question regarding the perception of liberal bias at ESPN, Pitaro said, “I do not believe that we are a political organization. I know that a lot of conversation has happened within this company in the past year and I believe that we netted out in the right place, which is we are a sports media company. Of course, there is going to continue to be an intersection of between sports and politics and we’re going to continue to cover that. We’re going to cover it fairly and honestly. But we are focused on serving the sports fan.”

Pitaro is certainly one of those sports fans. He revealed a bit of his sports fandom to the gathering. “My mood is dependent on how the Yankees do,” said the native of Westchester (NY) County, “and that’s in April!”

At the outset of the meeting, former ESPN President, George Bodenheimer, who served as Acting Chair for the past three months, received a standing ovation prior to introducing Pitaro. Bodenheimer will remain as a consultant to the company through the end of the year.

“I’ve known George for many years, and I’ve often tried to model myself after George,” Pitaro said. “He is, as you all know better than I do, the definition of a ‘class act,’ and he’s been incredibly helpful to me during the past couple of weeks, getting me onboard.”

Former ESPN President George Bodenheimer greets Jimmy Pitaro in Bristol. (Melissa Rawlins/ESPN Images)