After 31 years at the Worldwide Leader, and two years after he gave up the reins of its day-to-day oversight, George Bodenheimer is hanging ’em up. ESPN has confirmed that its Executive Chairman will exit the company this weekend. He was president of the sports juggernaut from 1998-2012, leading it through massive growth and into a leadership role in the national and global sports world. He segued to the Executive Chairman role at the start of 2012, when John Skipper replaced his as president of the network and co-chair of Disney Media Networks. Since then Bodenheimer has chaired ESPN’s Board of Directors. His exit comes two months after the announced departure of another longtime top Disney TV executive, Anne Sweeney, who is stepping down as Co-chair of Disney Media Networks and President of Disney/ABC Television Group in January.
Bodenheimer joined ESPN less than two years after its September 1979 launch, starting out as a mailroom driver. He rose through the ranks — running affiliate sales and ad sales, marketing and research for ESPN’s growing number of domestic networks — before getting the president gig in 1998. Under his watch, the company expanded its global presence and made coverage deals with the NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, numerous big-time college football and basketball conferences and, most notably, the NFL. Probably his biggest get was the transfer of ABC Monday Night Football franchise to ESPN for the 2006 season, the first time it had ventured off of free TV. Bodenheimer topped Sports Business Daily’s list of sports’ most influential people in 2008 and was given the National Football Foundation’s Distinguished American Award in 2012.