Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.
ESPN: We are not a frat house!
I attended my sixth consecutive ESPN upfront presentation to ad buyers Tuesday morning, along with Fireman Ed, The Laker Girls, the Oregon Duck, Seth Meyers, Tony Hawk, Clay Matthews, Jesse Palmer, Kenny Mayne, Hannah Storm, Sage Steele and Adriana Monsalve.
Afterward, several sports media scribes did what we had to do and asked John Skipper, executive vice president of content, about the book covering ESPN's history that is due out next Tuesday.
"Not really," he said. "I’ve gotten to know Jim [Miller] a little bit. He worked very hard. He interviewed a lot of people. I think generally it’s going to be a balanced book. I think it’s mostly a book about the history of ESPN and the people who sort of made it happen. There’s clearly going to be some things in it that he’s going to have to present all the warts and all. But I think generally it’s going to be a good book."
Is it fair to judge ESPN based on the continuing off-air issues involving its personalities, most recently hockey analyst Matthew Barnaby?
"Look, we know that we are in the spotlight and so when people associated with ESPN do foolish things, it is going to be news. There is nothing unfair about that.
"We have 6, 7,000 employees and we have another 3 or 4,000 people who work for us. You take any village of 10,000 people and a few of those people on any given day will act irresponsibly.
"When I went to college [at North Carolina], there was always somebody in the dorm, you know? The town I live in, there’s a guy who goes across the street and sleeps with his neighbor. Stuff happens.
"I can tell you categorically, we do not have a frat-boy culture. We do not condone that kind of activity. In fact, we have taken lots and lots of steps to create policies. We are fairly stringent when people do things. We suspend people. We fire people. It is clear to everybody who works for us we are not going to tolerate it. But it is just human nature and human behavior.
"No, we don’t have a culture run amok. It’s a phrase everyone likes to use now. We have a culture of hard work and achievement and serving fans. We have a lot of employees and a few of them, every now and then, do something stupid."
Regardless of the current culture, though, won't the book revisit the looser culture of the past?
"It’s a sweeping history of the company so they’re clearly going to talk about what the culture was like in the early days, which was a different culture than what it is now. I’m not just talking about behavior. The early culture was entrepreneurial, bootstrap. There were different kinds of behavior. Most of you guys lived during the ‘80s. I don’t think ESPN was unique. I worked at Rolling Stone in the ‘80s, you know?
"I think the book is going to be about something different. It’s going to be about the sweep of ESPN over three different periods: The entrepreneurial period, with Bill Rasmussen and Stu Evey, then a middle period which was Steve Bornstein and the building of the rights portfolios.
"And then the third era which is George's [Bodenheimer] tenure, which is going to be when it kind of paid off and moved into multi-platforms and established the position with fans that we have now. I think that’s generally what the book is about. And it’s about the culture, so some of that’s going to be in."