The content venture, supported by billionaire Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, “will emphasize a creator-centric point of view,” the official announcement said. Skipper will remain in his role as executive chairman of DAZN, the global streaming service backed by Blavatnik.
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“I’m thrilled to be back in business with Dan, one of the leading and most unique voices in sports media,” said Skipper. “We have a lot in the works, but the first order of business will be to find Dan a new home for his wildly popular audio programs.”
Le Batard broadcast his final ESPN show on January 4.
“We hear the term ‘free agency’ a lot, but our fans, as loyal and rabid as any in sports, just gave us the freedom to exert the agency,” Le Batard said. “John Skipper is a visionary, an industry leader and also the most powerful person in sports across the decade when our show rocketed to national acclaim. I can’t wait to see what he builds, and what we build together. We’re very lucky John is available to us. Our pirate ship has found itself an overqualified Skipper.”
PREVIOUSLY, January 9 PM: Former ESPN host Dan Le Batard is re-teaming with former colleague John Skipper on an unnamed new content venture.
Skipper has led sports streaming outfit DAZN since 2018. He is expected to continue at the company as he ramps up the new entity with Le Batard, whom he hired at ESPN in 2011, according to a person familiar with the situation. Skipper spent 27 years at ESPN, the last six of them as president, before an abrupt departure at the tail end of 2017. He joined DAZN, a global sports streaming service backed by billionaire Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, in 2018.
Access Industries, according to the source, has blessed the move by Skipper. Over time, he will have spent progressively less time on day-to-day operations. Longtime former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, who steered the launch of Disney+ and also led ESPN+ and Hulu, is reportedly in discussions with DAZN about helping to lead its operations.
Mayer left Disney when Bob Chapek was picked as CEO last February and had a short-lived run as CEO of TikTok, leaving amid its unforeseen tangles with the Donald Trump administration. Prior to leading Disney’s direct-to-consumer efforts, Mayer was a key architect of M&A deals, notably the acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox and the purchases of Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm.
In the U.S., DAZN is still known primarily for boxing, but it has steadily added studio shows and other rights. In other global territories, it streams NFL games and other top properties. Given its financial backing, the company is often seen as a contender for major U.S. sports rights.
The new Skipper-Le Batard enterprise is still in an early stage. Le Batard signed off his daily ESPN show, Highly Questionable, just last week. He hinted on his final broadcast that he was ready to take a “leap of faith” into something new and invited his fans to come along.
According to the source, one of its first goals will be to land a radio home for Le Batard, a former Miami Herald columnist who became a popular host on ESPN radio and TV platforms. In the 2020s, radio also usually means simulcasting on TV and, increasingly, streaming. Sports will be the focus of the new venture out of the gate, but it is likely to broaden out into other areas.
The Miami Herald and Sports Business Journal were the first to report on the new venture. A DAZN rep did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment.
Le Batard, who was pulling down $3.5 million a year by the end of his ESPN run, clashed with executives at the Disney-owned network during the latter half of 2020. Among his complaints was a directive to “stick to sports” and avoid politics, even in a politically charged year marked by Black Lives Matter protests. His longtime radio producer, Chris Cote, was also laid off in a 300-person downsizing in November. Le Batard brought him back as his “personal assistant” and paid him out of his own pocket. Le Batard claimed to have been “blindsided” by the dismissal of Cote, and called it “the greatest disrespect of my professional career.”
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