Top ESPN Executives Markley, Schell Leaving

The original ESPN logo on display in Digital Center 2 in Bristol, Connecticut
(Image credit: Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

ESPN said two of its most senior executives are leaving as the Disney-owned sports network is going through a round of layoffs.

In the wake of the departures, ESPN announced a new senior leadership team.

Related: ESPN to Lay off 500

Connor Schell, executive VP, content, is leaving effective April 2 to form an independent production company. ESPN said it will be Schell’s company’s first client.

Jodi Markley, executive VP, content operations & creative services, is retiring after 32 years, effective Jan. 8.

ESPN said last week that it is eliminating 300 positions and that 200 open posts won’t be filled. The network has been hurt by cord-cutting and by disruption to sports events caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When Jodi and Connor each approached me about starting their next chapters, those conversations were filled with mixed emotions,” said ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro. 

"Jodi has been a trailblazer, not just at ESPN, but throughout our industry, and, because of her entrepreneurial approach, ESPN has always led the way," Pitaro said. "Connor is an exceptional storyteller who has led some of the biggest content success stories in all of media. He brings great vision and passion to his work and that’s why I’m particularly pleased that he will continue to partner with ESPN on our film development and ESPYS initiatives in his new role. I am very happy for both of them; they have accomplished so much here and will certainly be missed at ESPN.” 

“Going forward, our newly-formed senior leadership group is poised to drive future success. The talented team is comprised of gifted and respected leaders. They are diverse thinkers who bring a collaborative spirit and a necessary focus on future strategy. I’m thrilled to have them as colleagues,” he said.

In the new setup, Pitaro’s direct reports will be:

Chara-Lynn Aguiar, VP, strategy and office of the chairman, will continue to focus on ESPN’s strategic development and serve as an advisor to the Chairman and his direct reports, providing insight and managing a wide variety of internal and external relationships.

Stephanie Druley, executive VP, event and studio production, will co-lead ESPN’s production area, including Monday Night Football, college football, NBA, studio and event production.

Laura Gentile, senior VP, marketing & social media, will be responsible for the creative marketing for the ESPN brand, including all shows and platforms, special events and will also pick up responsibility for its social media content.

Thomas Hennessy, senior VP, finance, will manage ESPN’s financial matters and budgets, in collaboration with colleagues at The Walt Disney Company.

Rob King, senior VP, editor-at-large, will be responsible for the company’s overall journalistic direction, working closely with leaders across ESPN Films and original content, digital content, social media, multi-platform journalism and storytelling and global content, and will advise ESPN and its senior leadership team on editorial issues.

Chris LaPlaca, senior VP, communications, will lead internal and external communications efforts.

Burke Magnus, executive VP, programming and original content, will oversee programming acquisition and scheduling, and now be responsible for ESPN and ESPN+ original content development and scheduling.

Kevin Merida, senior VP and editor-in-chief, The Undefeated, will lead this expanding platform that showcases the intersection of race, culture and sports, and will also partner closely with the Disney General Entertainment and Hulu teams to expand this groundbreaking property.

Diane Morse, chief counsel, will guide ESPN on all legal matters and governmental affairs.

Paul Richardson, senior VP, human resources, will oversee the wide-ranging HR functions, including diversity and inclusion, corporate citizenship and security.

Tina Thornton, senior VP, content operations, formerly in the Office of the President, will now lead ESPN’s remote operations and events, Creative Works and Creative Services, ESPN Synergy, and the ESPN Next program, among other responsibilities.

Mark Walker, senior VP, content business development and innovation, will be responsible for identifying and developing collaborative relationships to drive ESPN’s content initiatives forward.

Norby Williamson, executive VP and executive editor, will co-lead ESPN’s production area, including its flagship SportsCenter, Get Up and First Take studio shows and event production, as well as cross-platform journalism and storytelling.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.