ESPN’s Skipper: Parting Ways With Bill Simmons Was Business, Not Personal

Move ‘did not come down to money,’ won’t alter talent-driven strategy

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In his first extensive comments since ESPN decided to part ways with longtime columnist, podcaster, on-air host and provocateur Bill Simmons, network president John Skipper said it was business, not personal.

Speaking to reporters after the ESPN upfront Tuesday morning, he praised Simmons for his many contributions over a 15-year ESPN run and said unspecified disagreements over contract terms led him to not renew Simmons’ contract. At the same time, he added the decision “did not come down to money. We are a big company. If it came down to dollars and cents, we could have made it happen.”

He confirmed reports that he had not notified Simmons before disclosing the decision late last week, and said Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger supported the decision but did not instigate it.

Simmons, who had tangled with network brass in the latter stages of building a multi-media brand within the larger ESPN brand, was suspended two weeks by Skipper last year after comments blasting NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Asked if the Simmons affair, and similar talent issues involving Keith Olbermann and Stephen A. Smith, had prompted any changes in his philosophy of banking on talent as programming and promotional fuel, Skipper said, “No. Bill contributed tremendous value for ESPN. Like a GM, we want to find them as rookies and bring them in and develop them. That has not changed.”