Kevin Mayer In Talks With RedBird Capital For Post-TikTok Gig

By Jill Goldsmith, Dade Hayes

Kevin Mayer
Damian Dovarganes/AP

Kevin Mayer, longtime Walt Disney dealmaker and short-lived TikTok CEO — is in talks to join RedBird Capital.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed Mayer is in talks about a role at the investment firm, whose entertainment and sports holdings include stakes in David Ellison’s Skydance Media and the YES Network.

RedBird founder and managing partner Gerry Cardinale has known Mayer for many years through financial circles. The two also share a personal and professional interest in sports. While earning his undergraduate engineering degree at M.I.T., Mayer played for its football team.

Later, after earning his MBA from Harvard business school, he spearheaded Disney’s legendary strategic planning group, engineering a series of deals. He orchestrated key acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. After orchestrating the $71.3 billion acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox, Mayer became head of Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer & International division, steering its streaming efforts. He oversaw the launch of Disney+, an increasingly vital part of the company’s asset mix in 2020 as COVID-19 has pummeled theatrical moviegoing, theme parks, live sports and production.

In addition to Skydance, RedBird has worked with the NFL and its team owners on On Location Experiences, the NFL and Major League Baseball players unions on OneTeam. Recently, it teamed with Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia to acquire the XFL, whose 2020 reboot was torpedoed by COVID-19.

Prior to founding RedBird in 2014, Cardinale spent 20 years at Goldman Sachs, where he was a partner of the firm and a senior leader of the Merchant Bank’s private equity investing business. He helped create the YES Network, a trailblazer in the lucrative regional sports network arena, in collaboration with the Steinbrenner family. He also teamed with the Yankees on Legends Hospitality, a premium ticketing, concessions and merchandising business whose partners also include the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

Given the successful start for Disney+, which reported 60.5 million global subscribers as of early August, Mayer had been considered the favorite to succeed Iger. When Bob Chapek was picked for the top job instead, that announcement was made along with the news that Mayer was heading to TikTok.

Given Mayer’s considerable experience as a senior executive at family-friendly Disney, his successful recruitment was seen as a diplomatic coup for ByteDance. In addition to running the popular and fast-growing video-sharing platforms, he also became chief operating officer of TikTok’s parent, Chinese conglomerate ByteDance.

But Mayer resigned after three months as the Trump Administration threatened to ban TikTok in the U.S. due to security concerns. It avoided the ban by agreeing to be acquired by a U.S.-based firm, Oracle. Microsoft had also made an offer, which was rejected in favor of a more complex deal that involves Oracle and Walmart.

“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for,” Mayer wrote in an email to staff when he stepped down in late August.

After Mayer left TikTok, Oracle became the front-runner in the talks about a U.S.-based company playing a bigger role in its U.S. operations. Oracle is founded and run by Ellison’s father, Larry Ellison, a noted Trump supporter.

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