Connor Schell, ESPN’s Top Content Executive, to Depart by Year’s End

Brian Steinberg
·3 min read

Connor Schell, the ESPN executive who oversees all of its content, ranging from “Monday Night Football” to “SportsCenter” to the documentary program “30 For 30,” will leave the sports-media giant by the end of the year, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The split is said to be related to Schell’s desire to pursue other ventures, this person said. In recent years, he has helped ESPN dive more deeply into ambitious miniseries, including the award-winning “O.J.: Made in America” and the recent showing of “The Last Dance,” the documentary project about Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls. “We take a lot of pride in sports as a communal viewing experience,” Schell told Variety in an interview in April.

The New York Post previously reported on Schell’s expected departure. ESPN declined to make executives available for comment. Revelation of Schell’s exit follows the announcement of the departure of Ryan Spoon, ESPN’s digital-content chief, late last month.

His exit will add to a new list of challenges for Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and sports content for Walt Disney Company, and his corporate supervisors. Disney has been grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has crimped the heady revenue flows it normally gets from its theme parks, ad sales and production of live sports games. ESPN on Thursday revealed that it planned cut 300 staffers and leave 200 other positions unfilled as it worked to keep costs down while focusing more intently on reaching consumers through mobile and digital video.

Schell’s exit is not related to the layoffs, according to the person familiar with the matter. He has been in discussions with Pitaro about his future plans for several months, this person said. It is not clear if ESPN has a designated successor for Schell at the present time.

Schell, who joined ESPN in 2004, has worked his way up from working in program development to overseeing “30 for 30” and ESPN Films. He was named executive vice president of content in June of 2017.

Under his aegis, ESPN has proven willing to experiment. The network tested hosts like Jemele Hill and Michael Smith for “SportsCenter” who were willing to move past facts-and-stats reportage into exploring hot-button issues. And it launched a new morning show, “Get Up,” that initially failed to gain traction but has, with a few tweaks, become a mainstay part of the network’s lineup. And the network has continued to tweak the presentation of “Monday Night Football,” even as its negotiations for broadcast rights with the NFL start to intensify.

Schell has always kept a hand in ESPN’s documentary efforts and is said to have kept ties to Bill Simmons, the former ESPN personality who became a media entrepreneur and launched “The Ringer,” an outlet devoted to sports and culture.

Schell had been named as an executive producer on a new documentary series being created with football player and activist Colin Kaepernick under a deal the athlete crated with Walt Disney earlier this year. Two other senior ESPN staffers are also executive producers on the project.

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