Episode 3: John Kosner: ESPN’s Digital Leader On Culture and Diversity

ESPN’s print and digital media leader John Kosner weighs in on the power of the Medici Effect, and how it inspired ESPN to physically transform their offices into a living and breathing Intersection. John reveals how working in a space where diversity and creativity collide has revolutionized the sports giant’s leadership, work culture, and company vision. He also talks about how taking on new perspectives helped him connect with global audiences, delves into the future of ESPN and sports media, and explores the importance of shaping an environment (and mindset) where all things are possible.


John Kosner has been ESPN’s digital leader since 2003.

As ESPN’s executive vice president, digital and print media, Kosner and his team have built thedigital destination for sports media with 11 editions of ESPN.com, the world’s leading online sports service – nine outside of the U.S. including the UK, Mexico, Argentina, India and Australia – plus nine versions of the ESPN App in iOS and Android, seven outside the U.S., plus a content partnership with Tencent/QQ Sports in China. 

In November, 2016, ESPN extended its industry leadership to new heights as it reached a record 141mm global unique users, making it #1 for the first time both in the U.S. and outside the U.S., and sported the world’s #1 sports app (the ESPN App) and the most-used sports app (ESPN Fantasy).    

ESPN has established its franchise by delivering the highest quality editorial across an unmatched number of sports to an audience of users on smartphone and digital devices that is accelerating as ESPN expands its International editions of ESPN.com and local versions of the ESPN native app. ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine’s content capability is unmatched in breadth and recognition; together they received 105 awards in 2016.

Kosner’s influence has also been seen in ESPN’s leadership in: 

  • Streaming, from the introduction of “ESPN Motion” in 2002, ESPN3 and WatchESPN, to today’s integrated offering in the ESPN App. ESPN’s streaming efforts received critical acclaim during the 2014 World Cup and generated record usage in 2016;

  • Third-party partnerships with Apple, Google, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, among others;

  • Coverage of women’s sports with espnW, the network’s initiative for female sports fans;

  • Digital Audio, including ESPN’s Podcenter and leading podcasts.

ESPN Digital Media has also received numerous awards including the Sports Business Journal Awards for Digital in 2015 and six times in ten years, and the 2011 SBJ Sports Technology Award for WatchESPN. ESPN.com has also won eight Sports Emmys and two Online Journalism Awards, including the prestigious Award for General Excellence. 

During Kosner’s tenure, Richard Lapchick has heralded ESPN’s commitment to diversity in his annual report cards on diversity hiring in digital and print sports media.  In January, 2016, Kosner named Alison Overholt, Editor in Chief, ESPN The Magazine, making her the first woman ever to serve as lead editor of a general interest sports publication. In Overholt’s first year, ESPN The Magazine won the prestigious National Magazine Award for General Excellence.

Sports Business Journal ranked Kosner as the Most Influential in Online Sports in October 2008, one of several industry citations he has received. Kosner serves on the board of Digital Content Next and the Mobile Mobile Marketing Association. He has also served as Chairman of the Online Publishers Association and is a member of the Alumni Council Executive Committee of his alma mater, the Collegiate School in New York City.

Kosner is a 39-year veteran of sports media, starting as an intern at NBC Sports in 1978. He joined ESPN in 1997 as vice president, programming development. In 1999, he was named vice president, ESPN.com programming and broadband development and was promoted to his current position in January, 2012. Earlier, Kosner worked at CBS Sports, the National Basketball Association and Sports Illustrated.  

Kosner graduated with distinction from Stanford University in 1982 with a bachelor of arts degree in American History. Kosner lives in New York with his wife Diane Burstein, their son, Luke, and his older children, Walter and Grace.

LinkedIn / Twitter / espnmediazone

Philip Musey