When Steve Jobs gave ESPN president George Bodenheimer a piece of his mind

Fri, Jul 22, 2011


It’s probably not wise to arouse the ire of Steve Jobs. His temper is legendary, and while he may have toned things down over the past few years, he’s never been afraid to tell people what he thinks, often quite bluntly.

Oddly enough, there’s a small blurb about Steve Jobs in a recently released book about ESPN titled Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN. The book is a comprehensive look at the history of ESPN and the people that helped the world’s largest sports network. In terms of layout and style, it’s very similar to Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live – not that surprising given that the two books share the same two authors.

In any event, the Steve Jobs story relayed in the ESPN book is quite classic.

The scene: The first board meeting following Disney’s acquisition of Pixar in 2006 (Note that Disney owns ABC which owns ESPN).

There, ESPN president George Bodenheimer thought it’d be a good idea, or perhaps polite, to introduce himself to the Apple CEO and largest Disney shareholder.

The story goes that ESPN president George Bodenheimer attended the first Disney board meeting in Orlando, Florida, just after the company had bought Pixar, the innovative animation factory, and spotted Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a hallway. It seemed like a good time to introduce himself.

“I am George Bodenheimer,” he said to Jobs. “I run ESPN.” Jobs just looked at him and said nothing other than “Your phone is the dumbest f**king idea I have ever heard,” then turned and walked away.


Daring Fireball’s John Gruber writes that the phone Jobs was referring to was the Samsung Ace, a $99 monstrosity of a phone emblazoned with ESPN logos and intent on providing users who chose to subscribe with personalized sports news, fantasy team information and management options, exclusive audio and video content from mobile ESPN, ESPN radio updates every 20 minutes, access to SportsNation polls and trivia, downloadable team logos, fight songs, and a whole lot of other features that sounded better in theory than they were in practice.

Disney Mobile and Mobile ESPN reportedly lost a cool $135 million on the initiative as subscriber growth was, how shall we say, less than stellar.

As for Jobs, this isn’t the first we’ve heard of him bluntly giving his take on a new product. To wit, Jobs’ response when he first saw the Segway is also worth highlighting

“I think it sucks!” said Jobs.

His vehemence made [Segway’s] Tim [Adams] pause. “Why?” he asked, a bit stiffly.

“It just does.”

“In what sense?” said Tim, getting his feet back under him. “Give me a clue.”

“Its shape is not innovative, it’s not elegant, it doesn’t feel anthropomorphic,” said Jobs, ticking off three of his design mantras.

“You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.” The last word delivered like a stab. Doug Field and Scott Waters would have felt the wound; they admired Apple’s design sense. Dean’s intuition not to bring Doug had been right. “There are design firms out there that could come up with things we’ve never thought of,” Jobs continued, “things that would make you s–t in your pants.”

Straight shootin’.



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