SBJ/February 11-17, 2013/Media

Connolly tabbed to oversee ESPN’s college networks

ESPN has picked one of its top affiliate executives to oversee its regional college networks.

Justin Connolly will oversee the Longhorn Network and the soon-to-be-announced SEC Network as the senior vice president of college networks. In the newly created position, Connolly will report to Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports programming, and will remain based in Bristol, Conn.

Justin Connolly’s duties will extend well beyond network distribution.
Photo: JOE FARAONI
“In his new role, Connolly will lead ESPN’s regional networks, including the Longhorn Network and any future collegiate network projects,” according to a recent internal ESPN memo.

That almost certainly refers to the SEC’s planned channel, which still hasn’t been officially announced but is expected to launch in August 2014. It also could refer to an ACC channel, as the conference has hired Wasserman Media Group to look into the possibility of a network. But several sources say it’s unlikely ESPN will participate in such a channel.

Connolly’s distribution experience should help both the Longhorn Network, which has struggled to get distribution in Texas, and the SEC Network, which has no carriage yet.

But Connolly’s duties will expand well beyond distribution. He will oversee content acquisition and scheduling at the networks. Longhorn Network’s programming staff, including vice president of programming Dave Brown, will report to Connolly.

Connolly, who was a member of SportsBusiness Journal/Daily’s Forty Under 40 class of 2011, was a mainstay in ESPN’s affiliate department, which cut several long-term affiliate deals in the past year, including with Comcast, Cox, Charter, Cablevision and AT&T. He’s been at ESPN since 2003, starting in the affiliate group, and prior to that worked in Disney’s corporate finance department.

He’s a well-regarded executive who has earned a reputation as a hard worker, and one reason Connolly made the move, sources said, is to develop a new set of skills on the content side of the business after spending nearly a decade learning the affiliate side.

ESPN has not said how it plans to replace Connolly in the affiliate group.
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