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Kevin Mayer “will see what happens” amid Disney CEO speculation

Former DAZN chairman refuses to rule out return to media giant as successor to Bob Iger.

15 Mar 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • Mayer stepped down from DAZN role last week
  • Former TikTok CEO previously worked as Disney’s top streaming executive until 2020
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver and ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro also linked with role

Former DAZN chairman Kevin Mayer has refused to distance himself from speculation linking him with a return to Disney once incumbent chief executive Bob Iger steps down in two years’ time.

Mayer initially joined Disney in 1992 before returning in 2005 and becoming the media giant’s top streaming executive. He then left Disney in 2020 to become chief executive of short-form video platform TikTok but resigned only months into his tenure after the company came under pressure from the Trump administration over its ties to China.

Mayer joined sports streaming company DAZN in March 2021, replacing John Skipper, but stepped down from the role last week after his two-year contract came to an end.

Speculation on who will succeed Iger, who was reappointed by Disney last November and is leading the search for his replacement, has intensified in recent weeks. National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver is reportedly in contention, as is ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro.

Asked during this week’s SportsPro OTT Summit USA in New York about taking over from Iger, Mayer said: “We will see what happens”. He added that his immediate focus was on his investments and various advisory roles, including with production firm Candle Media, which works with the Hello Sunshine media company founded by Hollywood actress Reese Witherspoon.

“The future’s bright and I’m doing the things I love to do,” said Mayer. “I have a new [content] studio that we’ve created … and I’ve bought some companies with [alternative investment firm] Blackstone’s help. I love consumer tech investing.”

Away from potentially leading Disney, Mayer reflected on his time at DAZN and its future prospects. The company has spent heavily on several notable rights acquisitions in a bid to establish itself in multiple markets, including inking a ten-year global distribution deal for the National Football League’s (NFL) Game Pass International service. However, losses have increased to US$1.35 billion, prompting DAZN to suspend plans for an initial public offering (IPO).

According to Mayer, DAZN needs to double down on its efforts in Europe and Asia, rather than opting for an all-out global approach.

“The centre of gravity of DAZN is better served by being in Europe and in some parts of Asia, Japan’s a pretty big market for them,” he said.

“There was a global nature to the DAZN business when I first came on board, which I thought was a bit of a misdirection because, as we know, there aren’t that many global sports. I think the NBA is a global sport, I think [Premier League] football is a truly global sport.

“DAZN just did an NFL deal to take the NFL Sunday Ticket package outside the US. It’s not really a global sport.

“But I felt that to be a real premium service to get high ARPU, the revenue per user on a subscription basis, you really had to have the sports that matter in the local markets.

“Trying to come to the US and compete against ESPN and TNT, and Apple and Amazon and all those guys, that seemed like a very difficult thing to do.”

Mayer pointed to DAZN’s aggressive moves in Italy, Spain and Germany, which have seen the company land rights to each country’s top-flight soccer leagues. He stated that entering a market where there was a “traditional media competitor”, such as pay-TV broadcaster Sky, was a viable strategy.

“We went around the countries of Europe and we did a pretty good job,” he continued.

“We got all the Serie A rights in Italy, and Serie A is a religion in Italy, and we’ve done a really good job there I think. We’ve gotten half the LaLiga rights in Spain, we’ve gotten Bundesliga rights and Champions League rights in Germany. So those three big countries in Europe, I think [DAZN is] the premier provider of sports.”

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