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Most Influential: Media Influencers

Jimmy Pitaro, Burke Magnusgetty images (2)

— Top Influencers —

Jimmy Pitaro

Chairman, ESPN

Burke Magnus

President of Programming and Original Content, ESPN

With its ESPN+ streaming service, ESPN has been more active than other sports media companies. It’s not just the sheer volume of deals that Pitaro and Magnus were able to make in 2021, it’s how those deals were struck. ESPN paid, by far, the lowest increase of any media company for its NFL deal in March. It is paying MLB less money as part of its rights deal in May. And don’t forget that back in March it signed a seven-year deal to bring the NHL back at an average cost of around $400 million per year.

Pete Bevacqua, Molly Solomon, Gary Zenkel

Pete Bevacqua

Chairman, NBC Sports Group

Molly Solomon

Executive Producer and President of Olympics Production, NBC Sports Group

Gary Zenkel

President of Olympics and Business, NBC Sports Group

NBC Sports Group renewed “Sunday Night Football” through 2033 and the Premier League for the next six years. But it’s the work that these executives did around the Olympics that lands them on this list, from producing the Summer Games in Tokyo during a pandemic to planning for the Winter Games in Beijing just six months later.

Marie Donoghue (top), Jared Stacy

Marie Donoghue

Vice President, Global Sports Video, Amazon

Jared Stacy

Director, Global Live Sports Production, Amazon

The sports business has spent years waiting for Amazon to start spending big on sports rights. That moment came in March when it agreed to a deal for “Thursday Night Football” that eclipses $1 billion per year. A few months later, Amazon spent again, bringing in respected NFL producer Mike Muriano to oversee the production, a move that showed it means business as much as the $1 billion-per-year rights deal.

 

 

Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Nick Khan

Vince McMahon

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, WWE

Stephanie McMahon

Chief Brand Officer, WWE

Nick Khan

President and Chief Revenue Officer, WWE

There is clearly a repositioning of the WWE to a media business under Khan, who joined the company from CAA Sports in August 2020, especially with the move to Peacock as part of a five-year deal reported to be more than $1 billion. High-profile projects include a multipart Netflix docuseries on Vince McMahon’s life and a deal with Blumhouse Television on a scripted series about the WWE in the 1990s. 

 

Sean McManus (top), David Berson

Sean McManus

Chairman, CBS Sports

David Berson

President, CBS Sports

Back in January, CBS Sports produced a kids-focused version of an NFL playoff game for Nickelodeon. In March, it picked up rights to the Italian soccer league Serie A and a few months later cut a deal for the Scottish Football League. This certainly is not your father’s CBS Sports, and the executive duo of McManus and Berson have ably led CBS Sports through all of the changes in media.

 

 

Eric Shanks (top), Mark Silverman

Eric Shanks

Chief Executive Officer and Executive Producer, Fox Sports

Mark Silverman

President of National Networks, Fox Sports

Instead of putting Fox Sports’ resources toward a streaming strategy, Shanks and Silverman focused on a mass audience strategy that has been favored by Wall Street. The fruits of their labor can be seen in the network’s “Big Noon” strategy around college football, which has turned the noon window into the most-viewed regular-season time slot after just two years.

 

 

Jeff Zucker (top), Lenny Daniels

Jeff Zucker

Chairman, WarnerMedia News and Sports

Lenny Daniels

President, Turner Sports

Discovery’s merger with WarnerMedia becomes official in 2022, which is when the sports business expected Zucker and Daniels to become more aggressive in picking up sports rights. But Turner added the NHL to its schedule as part of an April deal and put together a strong bid for Premier League rights. It now boasts one of the highest quality portfolios in all of sports media.

 

SBJ Spotlight: TikTok’s threat to traditional sports media

While tech companies are consumed with finding ways to compete with TikTok, almost no one in conventional media “spends any time talking about it,” said Recode senior correspondent Peter Kafka in an Spotlight interview with SBJ’s John Ourand. “To me, that’s just an obvious disconnect.” Kafka authored a recent column headlined, “It’s TikTok’s world. Can TV live in it?” He said the main response to TikTok’s growth from traditional media execs has been to “punt and hope it’s someone else’s problem a quarter from now or two years from now.” But Kafka said that ignores the trend of conventional broadcast audiences growing older while a billion younger consumers spend most of their media time watching short video after short video. “If you’re in the business of getting anyone under the age of 30 to look at what you’re putting on a screen, you have to think about the fact that you’re probably asking them to put down TikTok and watch your thing instead,” said Kafka. “That’s a very difficult ask. … [TikTok] is insanely addictive.”

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