SBJ/Sept. 2-8, 2013/Media

Twitter taps Reiss to spearhead sports

Twitter has taken its most significant step into the sports world by hiring Geoff Reiss to build out the company’s sports business, according to several sources.

Twitter hired the former Professional Bowlers Association CEO to a new position as head of sports partnerships where he will report to Chloe Sladden, Twitter’s vice president of media. A former ESPN executive who was named to SportsBusiness Journal’s inaugural Forty Under 40 list in 1999, Reiss will start with the social media company later this month. The PBA is based in Seattle, and Twitter’s headquarters are in San Francisco. It’s unclear whether Reiss will be based in San Francisco or New York, where many sports leagues and media companies are based.

Twitter would not comment for this story.

Geoff Reiss
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The hiring of Reiss, who will be responsible for building Twitter’s sports business and industry relations, caps a nearly six-month search for a position that has been the focus of intense industry buzz. The combination of Twitter’s popularity, its opportunities for growth and the company’s likely IPO caused many digital media executives to look into the position.

According to the job description that was circulated this spring, Twitter sought an executive with 15 to 20 years experience who would “manage all sports partnerships, talent relationships and content” for the social media company. That included “devising and executing the strategies that will make Twitter valuable to the talent as well as to the operations and strategy of sports television, digital media and events,” the job description said.

Twitter has cut relatively small deals with a handful of media companies such as ESPN and Fox Sports, as well as properties like the NBA and NASCAR. Reiss will look to build on those as he will hire a team of executives to build out the social media company’s sports business.

Sources said the company was looking for a well-known executive who would bring a big Rolodex to help develop Twitter’s presence in the industry. The company currently has Omid Ashtari as head of sports and entertainment and Ben Grossman, who is head of global operations for Twitter Media.

Reiss has a long history in the sports and media businesses. He joined Starwave Corp. in 1993 and oversaw the creation of ESPN SportsZone, which became ESPN.com. He eventually moved to ESPN’s programming department and oversaw ESPN Original Entertainment.

Reiss became vice chairman of the PBA in March 2011. Six months later, he was named CEO of the league. While at the PBA, Reiss oversaw the PBA League, which featured celebrity owners such as Billie Jean King and Terrell Owens. That move helped convince ESPN to renew its media rights deal just over a month ago. Reiss worked on the agreement, which extends ESPN’s deal with the league another five years and increases the number of hours it devotes to the PBA to 36 per year from 25.

Reiss’ hiring likely will be announced formally within the next two weeks. The move comes after Twitter hired former Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard to be its new head of commerce.

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