ESPN President John Skipper is nearing a contract extension

ESPN President John Skipper is close to a contract extension that will keep him at the Walt Disney Co.-owned sports media giant through 2021, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Sports news website the Big Lead reported Tuesday that Skipper, 61, will have his current contract extended through 2021.

ESPN is not commenting on the report, but two people with knowledge of the discussions with Disney said Skipper is nearing a deal that will keep him on beyond 2018, when his current agreement was set to expire.

The extension would be a vote of confidence in Skipper’s leadership in ESPN, which in recent years has become a poster child for how the TV business has been upended by the growing number of viewers who are going without cable and satellite TV subscriptions.

Cord-cutting has slowed the growth of TV revenue at ESPN at a time when sports rights costs have increased. In 2010, ESPN was available in nearly 100 million homes in the U.S. Now, however, it is in about 87 million homes, according to Nielsen data.

The slower revenue growth has resulted in several rounds of layoffs at ESPN, with an additional 100 people expected to be cut later this year. The network has been hiring to staff up its digital initiatives, which include an ESPN-branded streaming channel to be launched next year.

Skipper’s division has also taken some public criticism for its editorial direction, especially in the polarizing political climate that has intensified since President Trump took over the White House. Skipper suspended “SportsCenter” co-host Jemele Hill after she called Trump a white supremacist on Twitter. Conservative commentators have used the personal views of ESPN on-air talent to paint the network as a bastion of liberalism and political correctness.

But during a call with Wall Street analysts last week, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Bob Iger expressed his confidence in ESPN’s future in spite of the challenges it faces over cord-cutting.

“We’ve never lost our bullishness about ESPN,” Iger said. “The brand is strong. The quality of their programming is strong.”

Skipper became president of ESPN in 2012.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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