Sports betting? Apparel? Digital? Commissioner? David Levy ponders possibilities post-Turner
Sitting in a bar in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City last month, David Levy was focused on a television tucked up in the corner that was showing the NBA draft lottery.
On this night, the former Turner boss was back to being a sports fan — openly pulling for the hometown Knicks to wind up with the top pick and the right to draft Zion Williamson. Levy let out a booming laugh when NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announced that the Knicks would have the third pick in this year’s draft.
“Just remember, Michael Jordan went third,” Levy said, with a burger and tequila in front of him. “The Knicks got the third pick!”
Levy’s 32-year career at Turner had ended two months earlier after AT&T officially assumed control of the company. Out of work for the first time in more than three decades, Levy had taken dozens of meetings over the previous eight weeks to get a sense of how the job market looks for someone who has been one of the most influential executives in the media business.
He is a well-regarded media executive — he ran all of Turner, after all. But it was his reaction to the draft lottery results that has others convinced his next job will be in sports. That was the message one headhunter gave Levy after he rattled off every department where he worked at Turner.
“I talked about ad sales, international, distribution and selling content across platforms; I talked about entertainment, and I talked about sports,” Levy said. “The headhunter looked at me and said, ‘I know what you want to do. You want to do sports. When you talk about sports, your passion level goes up. Your voice and your energy goes up when you talk about sports.’”
True enough, Levy’s Turner career was marked by some of the biggest sports deals in the company’s history, from bringing the MLB playoffs and NCAA Tournament to cable for the first time to buying Bleacher Report and running the NBA’s digital businesses.
In talking about his future plans, Levy appeared relaxed — dressed casually in blue jeans and a T-shirt and chatting amiably about his experiences.
Levy laughed at the idea that he might hang it up and enjoy retirement. That’s not his style. And while his schedule has been packed, he said he is not in a rush to get back to work.
That was not a decision that came easily. Levy was prepared to attack the job market in much the same way he approached deals. His friends told him that he needed to slow down.
During one meeting, a friend said that he should expect his phone to ring off the hook with a variety of consulting opportunities and positions on advisory boards.
“You’ve got to say no to all of them,” the executive told Levy. “What’s going to happen is that your schedule is going to load up. You’re going to have no equity and you’re going to give all your intellectual knowledge away for not a lot of money.”
The executive painted a picture where Levy’s golf game will improve and his weight will drop.
“Then you’re going to plateau in month four or five,” the executive said. “Your golf game will suck. You will have traveled everywhere you want to go. And your weight will no longer be in decline. And — here’s the bad part — your phone’s not going to ring anymore because you said no to everybody. That’s when you don’t take the job. That’s when people jump back in and take the wrong job. They’re worried. They’re worried that their value is gone. You can sit for a year. Even two. You worked at a company for 32 years. You deserve this time.”
Levy is determined to remain patient and open-minded. Industry sources have suggested that any tech company that wants to be in sports would first reach out to Levy. But he said he would consider any job in sports — it doesn’t have to be in media.
“There are a lot of jobs I like,” he said. “It could be sports betting, sports apparel, sports marketing like CAA or IMG, sports production, sports digital, sports teams, sports franchises, commissioner. I’m interested in it all.”
In most of his meetings over the previous two months, friends have offered advice on how such a high-energy executive should handle so much down time. “Talk to everyone, commit to no one — that’s my mantra,” Levy said.
Levy said he has listened to the advice. He plans to take the summer off to travel and play golf before starting up his job search again.
“I’m humbled with how helpful this industry has been for me, giving me advice and direction as I go through this weird time in my life,” he said. “Thirty-two years in one company that I love — I spent more than half my life at the company.”