ESPN has a new president, and he comes from a gaming background. The Disney-owned sports network announced today that James Pitaro will take over for John Skipper as ESPN’s president. Skipper stepped down last year, citing a substance addiction problem.
Pitaro, who is ESPN’s eighth president since the network launched in the ’70s, previously served as chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. Before that, he was president of Disney Interactive, which ran Disney’s video game business. Pitaro will report directly to Disney CEO Bob Iger.
“Jimmy is a talented and dedicated leader with the right strategic vision, relentless drive and passion for sports required to lead the stellar ESPN team at this incredibly dynamic time,” Iger said in a statement. “Jimmy forged his career at the intersection of technology, sports and media, and his vast experience and keen perspective will be invaluable in taking ESPN into the future. I also want to extend my utmost thanks to George Bodenheimer for serving as Acting Chair of ESPN these past few months; he is a true industry pioneer and helped make ESPN the undisputed leader in sports.”
Disney has scaled back its gaming efforts in recent years. In 2014, Disney Interactive laid off around 700 people as part of a sweeping reorganization. The layoffs were a part of Disney’s move to combine its mobile game business and its social game business. In 2016, Disney canceled its Disney Infinity series and closed developer Avalanche Software.
At the time, Pitaro said, “We have modified our approach to console gaming and will transition exclusively to a licensing model. He said the toys-to-life category was failing to see growth, and this, combined with “high development costs,” led to a “challenging business model.”