Behind The ScenesCOVID-19Executive VoiceNews

Pitaro tells 2020 World Congress of Sports: “We’re going to get through this” and ESPN “is at its best in these moments”

Earlier today, the 2020 CAA World Congress of Sports kicked off its annual gathering, albeit in a virtual format smartly tagged, “WWOC Comes to You.” Highlighting today’s Noon-2 p.m. ET session was ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro.

In a video interview (agreed to months ago when World Congress was going to be an in-person conference and pre-recorded from Pitaro’s home office last Friday), Sports Business Journal reporter John Ourand focused much of the conversation on how Pitaro is leading through unprecedented times.

“I’m pretty proud of how our team reacted on the fly,” Pitaro says in the 12-minute video. “We really are at our best in those moments. Given all we’re dealing with personally and professionally, it may appear somewhat insensitive to even mention – but I am just very proud of the professionalism of our team.”

Pitaro reveals he was in that same home office as he watched the NBA reach its decision throughout the night of March 11.

“I was at my desk,” he told Ourand. “Earlier that day we had a senior staff meeting discussing what might happen and putting plans in place in terms of how to protect our employees and continue with our programming. Our north star is the safety and well-being of our people – the speed with which our leadership team implemented work from home procedures was amazing.”

The wide-ranging conversation, which is available to registered World Congress participants, also included praise for the NBA’s leadership in the early days of the pandemic’s entry into sports.

“I applaud [NBA Commissioner] Adam [Silver] for making the decision he did. It demonstrated strong leadership at a time we needed it,” Pitaro said, adding that he has been in constant contact with league executives, partners and commissioners over the past two weeks. “At the macro level our partnerships have never been stronger and that’s become more and more apparent to me. There’s a ‘We’re all in this together attitude’ and it’s really refreshing.”

Ourand wrapped things up by seeking Pitaro’s take on what the return to sports will be like and what his message for sports is: “Fans have always been passionate about sports – fan is short for fanatic. We’re passionate about our teams, we’re passionate about our players – as you know I’m one of [those fans].”

Pitaro shared this passage from ESPNCricInfo’s editor Sambit Bal’s recent piece:

“. . . At the simplest level, sport is the greatest distraction from our day-to-day troubles. At its most profound, it is the most joyful projection of the scale of human ability and ambition. . .”

“I love that and I’ve read it several times,” Pitaro said. “I completely expect that passion will remain even in light of the moments we find ourselves in right now. That’s why what we’re doing right now is so critically important. I also believe when live sports returns, they’ll come back strong.

“We’re going to get through this. . . As I’ve learned from [Executive Chairman of The Walt Disney Company and Chairman of the Board of Directors] Bob Iger, it’s important that we stay calm; that we try to be realistic, but at same time be optimistic. Admittedly [it’s] not an easy task right now, but it’s critical. Let’s take care of our families, let’s take care of our colleagues and know at some point we’ll all be helping millions of sports fans out of our current circumstance and to a much happier place.”

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