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Volume 21 No. 2
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With promotion, ESPN’s Magnus becomes a big man off campus

John Ourand
Burke Magnus, ESPN’s top college programming executive for the past five years, is not well-known outside of the college ranks.
But that’s about to change.

Magnus emerged as perhaps the biggest winner from ESPN’s executive shuffle last month. A little more than two weeks ago, ESPN President John Skipper promoted Magnus to senior vice president of programming acquisitions, where he will oversee all of ESPN’s league partner relationships, such as the NFL, MLB and NBA.

Burke Magnus was a big winner in the executive shuffle at ESPN.

Burke  Magnus weighs in on some of the bigger rights relationships that he now oversees:

“It’s one of the most important categories of content that we have. We have a great relationship with those guys right now …”

“We have a new agreement that kicks in this year. It’s a much bigger and broader deal that I want to make sure gets launched in the appropriate way. It’s a critically important category for us, and it’s critically important content that spans a long portion of the calendar year.”

“These talks are ongoing. It’s something we’re really interested in. It’s no secret that our company likes the sport of soccer and will continue to invest in it. It’s certainly a competitive category from a rights acquisition standpoint. The World Cup and other negotiations will prove that out. We believe in the MLS and hope that we will have a deal very soon.”

“We’re going to launch the SEC Network in August. That’s a huge focus of mine. A fair amount of my time will remain in the college space.”

Magnus would not comment on the Thursday night package that the NFL awarded to CBS. But he did allow that “‘Monday Night Football’ is always going to be a top priority for us.”

“One property I wish wasn’t so far out is the National Hockey League. I’d love to be in the hockey business again some day.”

I talked with Magnus last week to see how his new job is going. He had just come off a Super Bowl week that must have seemed like a speed dating experience, where he spent time with executives from several leagues.

One of his priorities will be with the coming NBA negotiations. Skipper and John Wildhack, executive vice president of programming and production and Magnus’ boss, will be intimately involved in the negotiations. But Magnus will be the one hammering out the details.

During Super Bowl week, he spent a lot of time with the NBA’s president of global media distribution, Bill Koenig, and president and executive producer of content, Danny Meiseles, attending games at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden.

“That’s going to be front-and-center for me, making sure the NBA talks get off to the start that’s required,” Magnus said.
A longtime ESPN employee — he’s been in Bristol for 19 years — Magnus has made a name for himself by establishing some of the deepest relationships in college sports.

He’s been a regular at Mike Slive’s Birmingham home, sipping bourbon and smoking cigars on the commissioner’s patio while talking about college sports.

Magnus and Wildhack have a standing golf competition with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and conference lawyer John Barrett, playing at courses across the country. Bristol-based sources tell me that Magnus and Wildhack hold a slight edge in that competition.

For the past 14 years, Magnus has been the executive that has pushed ESPN to new heights in college sports, launching ESPNU nearly 10 years ago and wrapping up rights deals with major college conferences that extend well into the next decade.

While overseeing college programming, Magnus brought the BCS to ESPN; acquired several college football bowl games; cut a deal for all NCAA championships other than men’s basketball; and maintained three dozen rights relationships from the Ivy League to the SEC.

“Rights acquisitions get a lot of the headlines, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of our company,” Magnus said. “We’re going to have to continue to grow. We’re going to have to continue to help our partners grow. That’s a never ending job.”

John Ourand can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.