Kevin Mayer, whose long tenure at Disney culminated in the successful launch of Disney+, is joining sports streaming outfit DAZN as chairman.
He replaces former colleague John Skipper, the longtime former ESPN executive who steered DAZN through launches in the U.S. and other global territories. Backed by billionaire Len Blavatnik, DAZN specializes in boxing and soccer, but also controls rights to several other sports in various territories.
Given its resources, the service has been considered a candidate to make a play for more high-end sports rights. The value of those rights has declined in some international markets, making them attractive, and is becoming unwieldy for traditional U.S. media companies. In keeping with its new mission to expand to 200 countries, a plan first reported by Deadline last fall, the emphasis for DAZN is expected to remain outside the U.S. in the near term.
Skipper and ex-ESPN host Dan Le Batard formed content company Meadowlark Media in January. As was planned at that time, Skipper will remain on the board of DAZN and will continue as an advisor to the company. DAZN also plans to invest in and potentially collaborate with Meadowlark on various projects.
Unlike Skipper, who was executive chairman of DAZN, Mayer’s title will be chairman. Co-CEOs James Rushton and Shay Segev will operate the company, while Mayer will oversee the board and set overall strategy.
Sports, long the glue holding the pay-TV bundle together, has been increasingly moving beyond the traditional broadcast TV realm. NBCUniversal has added sports like Premier League soccer and NHL hockey to streaming service Peacock and is unplugging its cable-based NBC Sports Network. Amazon has deals with the NFL and the New York Yankees, with likely more on the horizon. The CBS All Access rebrand as Paramount+ takes effect Thursday with the NFL, pro golf, UAIFA soccer and other sports in the mix.
Last month’s Super Bowl was the most streamed NFL game in history, with CBS All Access reporting 5.7 million digital viewers per minute. But the stream also crashed in the opening minutes, raising questions about the technical capabilities of streaming live sports. (The general consensus has been that the technology will soon be fully ready for mass-scale viewing — but tell that to cord-cutters who missed the opening kickoff.)
Mayer headed the Direct-to-Consumer and International division at Disney, running all of the company’s streaming businesses, including Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+ and Hotstar. He also oversaw global sales and international operations. Prior to that role, he engineered a number of transformative deals as the company’s Chief Strategy Officer. Among the key acquisitions he spearheaded were those of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, BamTech and most of the assets of 21st Century Fox.
After Mayer was passed over and Bob Chapek succeeded Bob Iger as CEO of Disney in February 2020, Mayer became CEO of TikTok, but he resigned after just three months. The fast-rising social media company encountered a wall of opposition from the Donald Trump administration due to its China ties. Trump ordered a sale to a U.S.-led owner and a bid with Oracle and Walmart attached wound up prevailing. But TikTok parent ByteDance has successfully challenged the sale order in court, and President Joe Biden put a pin in the process last month, ordering a formal review of the situation.
Since the TikTok chapter, Mayer has tapped his finance and strategic planning background. Among his projects has been launching a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, with former Disney colleague Tom Staggs.
“I’m incredibly proud of what the team has accomplished over the past several years. We’ve secured rights to the world’s premier sports leagues, dramatically increased subscriptions and revenues, and launched our platform in more than 200 countries and territories,” Skipper said in the official announcement. “It’s the ideal moment to transition the company into its next phase of growth. Having worked closely with Kevin at The Walt Disney Company for more than two decades, I can’t think of a better person to lead the DAZN Group Board of Directors.”
Mayer said he looks forward to helping DAZN “build on its impressive track record of success in developing a truly global sports platform.”
The chairman noted that he first connected with Blavatnik’s Access Industries last year and got acquainted with its inner workings. “I’ve been impressed with DAZN’s ambitions and ability to quickly grow from a new entrant to an important player in key markets throughout the world,” he said. “I look forward to guiding DAZN’s strategic development into its next chapter.”
Blavatnik noted that DAZN will remain a “key holding” in the Access portfolio.
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