NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell. (Wikipedia.)

There’s been significant turmoil in the upper executive ranks of many media companies over the past decade, including Fox Sports president Jamie Horowitz being fired in 2017 around allegations of sexual harassment, ESPN president John Skipper resigning in 2017 while citing a substance addiction, CBS CEO Les Moonves stepping down in 2018 amidst allegations of sexual assault, and WarnerMedia chairman of news and sports Jeff Zucker resigning in 2022 over an inappropriate workplace relationship. The latest move there sees an abrupt exit from NBCUniversal head Jeff Shell, following a filed complaint about sexual harassment and sexual discrimination and his acknowledgement of an inappropriate workplace relationship:

Here’s more from Flint’s Wall Street Journal piece, including a comment from Gamble’s lawyer disappointed her name was published in accounts Sunday:

CNBC International anchor Hadley Gamble accused former NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Shell of sexual harassment and sex discrimination in a complaint to the company, a lawyer for Ms. Gamble said Monday. 

…Mr. Shell was fired for cause, and the company doesn’t intend to pay him severance, people familiar with the situation said Monday. CNBC is owned by NBCUniversal.

…“The investigation into Mr. Shell arose from a complaint by my client of sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Given these circumstances It is very disappointing that my client’s name has been released and her privacy violated,” said Suzanne McKie, a managing partner of Farore Law, a firm based in the United Kingdom.

Here’s the statement Shell released Sunday, via Meg James of The Los Angeles Times:

“Today is my last day as CEO of NBCUniversal. I had an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the company, which I deeply regret. I’m truly sorry I let my Comcast and NBCUniversal colleagues down, they are the most talented people in the business and the opportunity to work with them the last 19 years has been a privilege.”

As per James’ piece, the statement from NBCUniversal parent corporation Comcast said they and Shell “mutually agreed” to part ways, so Flint’s reporting of Shell being fired for cause with no intention of severance is a notable shift there. (It would not be the first time that a statement was worded to suggest a more mutual parting than the actual situation, though.) Beyond that, James’ piece is notable for noting that NBCUniversal does not plan to specifically replace Shell immediately, with Comcast president Mike Cavanaugh assigned to lead NBCUniversal in the interim and pick up Shell’s nine direct reports (including NBCUniversal television and streaming chair Mark Lazarus, who oversees NBC Sports, Peacock, and many other areas, and has overseen NBC Sports in one capacity or another since 2011).

It’s not yet clear exactly what implications, if any, Shell’s exit may have for NBC’s sports strategy. There haven’t been a lot of reports of him specifically involved in various rights deals. And some of that has to do with figures like Lazarus and NBC Sports chair Pete Bevacqua (who joined the company in 2018, and was promoted to his current role in 2020 following Lazarus’ promotion) having long relationships of their own in the sports world, and being spotlighted in those conversations about rights.

But a change in media company leadership is still always notable, as a new leader of an overall company may have a very different strategy in mind (see Bob Iger and Bob Chapek). And NBC has a number of interesting sports things in the works, including a new deal for the Big Ten and a lot of mentions that they might look to regain the NBA. There’s also maybe some uncertainty around the future of their regional sports networks; nothing specific has come out there yet, apart from 2021 reports of a potential shift that haven’t yet produced anything, but amidst turmoil with Sinclair/Diamond and Warner Bros. Discovery RSNs, that whole model is being questioned.

With existing Comcast executive Cavanaugh assuming Shell’s reports for now, there may not be immediate major change from this shift. But it will well be worth watching if and when NBC does name a specific permanent for Shell. And it will be interesting to see if they make any strategic changes on the sports front before or after that.

[The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times; Shell photo from Wikipedia]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.