ESPN Content Chief John Skipper: 'If the fans want to watch it we are going to try and get it'

By Alex Weprin 

ESPN held its upfront presentation at the Best Buy Theater in New York City this morning, and your SportsNewser was in attendance as the company unveiled a number of new programs, and updated advertisers, media buyers and the press about their plans for the coming year (or two).

The event was hosted by “SportsNation” co-host Michelle Beadle and “SportsCenter” anchor Scott Van Pelt, who introduced ESPN executives, talent and some sports star guests.

Among those attending: The Laker Girls, pro skater Tony Hawk, “Saturday Night Live” star and “Espys” host Seth Meyers, Green Bay Packers star Clay Matthews, New York Jets staple Fireman Ed and mascots the UConn Husky and the Oregon Duck.

Executives included Disney CEP Bob Iger, ESPN chairman George Bodenheimer, ad sales chief Ed Erhardt (pictured) and content chief John Skipper, who outlined the channel’s live sports priorities, including a hint at ESPN’s long-rumored Olympic bidding plans.

“We want to aggregate the rights to as many live sports as possible,” said Skipper, who went on to outline ESPN’s recent Pac 10 deal. “If the fans want to watch it we are going to try and get it.”

Skipper was joined on stage by “Mike and Mike” co-host Mike Greenberg.

“You notice John said try, try to get it,” Greenberg said. “There is a lot of talk about rights acquisitions in all the big sports, so John what are we doing to try and compete in that marketplace?”

“We are just trying hard to eek out a living in a harsh and forbidding wilderness of competition,” Skipper quipped. “I am reading that just as our lawyers wrote it.”

ESPN is widely believed to be preparing an aggressive bid for the 2016 and 2018 Olympics, with bidding set to begin later this Summer. For now, however, ESPN chose to focus on the sports it already has rights to, including college football, the FIFA World Cup, the NFL, The X Games and NASCAR.

College football was the first sport to get play at the event, with “College GameDay” celebrating its 25th year in 2011. In addition to the Pac 10 deal this is the first year of ESPN’s 12-year deal with the ACC. other highlights include the first-ever night game from Michigan on Sept. 10, a pair of marquee matchups Sept. 17 in Oklahoma at Florida State and Ohio State at Miami, and a Thanksgiving game between Texas and Texas A&M.

The X Games will expand globally in 2013, with two games to be held in the U.S. and four in other countries. ESPN will hold a formal bidding process for cities interested in hosting the games. Hawk said that he was hoping that Japan would get to host, noting that skateboarding is not as popular there as it is in other countries.

For soccer fans, ESPN is planning a significant push behind the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will be held in Germany this Summer. Team USA is ranked number one, but host Germany has won the last two World Cups, so the U.S. is considered something of an underdog, despite its ranking.

On the NASCAR front, ESPN is following in the footsteps of TNT (and most recently Fox Sports) in continuing to show live races during commercial breaks. ESPN’s solution is called NASCAR Non Stop, and will kick-in starting with the Chicagoland 400 Sept. 18. Non Stop will run starting in the second-half of all Sprint Cup races after then.