Place your bets: Who will be the next head of Sinclair’s RSNs?
The hottest job opening in sports media is the one overseeing the Fox Sports-branded regional sports networks for Sinclair. That position will be vacated on Aug. 30 when current President Jeff Krolik retires, and Sinclair has hired Nolan Partners to fill the position.
This is an important hire for Sinclair. In this era of cord cutting, RSNs face pressure from distributors, as evidenced by Dish Network’s decision to drop Sinclair’s RSNs last July.
RSNs also face pressure from teams, who have built business plans around the annual rights fee increases that these channels pay out.
Those pressures are why Disney sold the group of networks for $10.6 billion after valuing them at more than $20 billion when it bought Fox’s entertainment assets in March last year.
I asked Krolik, who has held his position for the past 15 years, what advice he’d give to Sinclair about how to fill the role. His answer did not surprise me.
“It’s about the depth of the quality of relationships,” Krolik said. “We’ve been able to establish remarkably good relationships with all of our constituencies — contributors, advertisers, teams, fans, employees. Maintaining and improving those relationships is key. Everything else will flow from that.”
I’m told that Nolan Partners has already started to reach out to candidates. Here’s a list of candidates I expect to get calls, complete with betting odds on whether they’ll land the job.
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■ 2-1: Scott Shapiro, chief development officer, Sinclair
Shapiro appears to be the clear front-runner and word is that the executive already has raised his hand to interview for it. Shapiro has a ton of experience in acquisitions and investments. If Sinclair hires from within, he likely will get the nod.
■ 3-1: Billy Chambers, executive vice president of finance, Fox Sports Regional Networks
Chambers would make the most sense because he knows the ins and outs of these RSNs better than anybody. As Krolik’s right-hand man, Chambers has been part of just about every rights negotiation for the Fox RSNs for the past two decades.
■ 4-1: David Rone, senior managing director, Guggenheim Partners
Rone has the relationships thanks to a career spanning TV networks, agencies and now an investment and advisory firm. Rone has the experience, having launched RSNs with Time Warner Cable Networks. The problem for Sinclair: Rone is happy at Guggenheim Partners.
■ 5-1: David Gibber, senior vice president and general counsel, Sinclair
Gibber is another internal candidate, and sources say he has expressed interest in the position. As Sinclair’s head lawyer, everything runs through Gibber. If Sinclair wants a long-term solution, the 30-something Gibber could get the nod.
■ 10-1: Karen Brodkin, executive vice president, content strategy & partnerships, Endeavor
Having spent 16 years with Fox Sports earlier in her career, Brodkin knows everything about the RSNs. Having spent the last six years at Endeavor, Brodkin knows everything about teams and leagues looking to sell rights to RSNs.
■ 15-1: Bill Bridgen, president and group leader, NBC Sports Regional Networks
As part of Fox’s affiliate relations group, Bridgen helped launch the RSN group. Now with NBC Sports, Bridgen knows how to run an RSN group. Deep relationships, combined with decades of experience, make Bridgen a possibility.
■ 20-1: Ray Hopkins, president, U.S. Network Distribution, ViacomCBS
If I ran the job search, Hopkins would be my first call. He has RSN experience and great relationships, particularly with cable and satellite companies. And he loves sports.
■ 25-1: Jon Litner, president, YES Network
Litner is the only executive from an individual RSN that would be considered, thanks largely to his experience, which includes running the Comcast RSNs around a decade ago.
■ 30-1: Dana Zimmer, executive vice president and chief distribution and strategy officer, Nexstar Media Group
If Sinclair wants its new RSN head to be well-versed in retransmission consent and distribution, Zimmer is the play. She is directly responsible for figuring out the first distribution deals for YES Network and SportsNet New York. She is well-liked and has rock-solid relationships.
■ 35-1: Sean Bratches, former managing director of commercial operations, F1
Bratches knows the network side from his time at ESPN. He knows the property side from his time at F1. And he has a ton of deep relationships in the business. Bratches would be a high-profile hire for Sinclair.
■ 35-1: Bob Scanlon, president, Shelter Cove Media
Scanlon is a media veteran who has experience negotiating rights deals, overseeing production and selling advertising. A unique selling point for this former ESPN, ESPN2, NFL Network and SpeedVision exec? He lives in Maryland and can commute to Sinclair’s Baltimore HQ.
■ 40-1: Marie Donoghue, vice president of global sports video, Amazon
Some expect RSNs to become more closely aligned with tech companies as they navigate the future. If Sinclair feels that way, it would make sense for the company to hire Donoghue, one of the highest-ranking sports execs in big tech.
■ 45-1: Barry Faber, president, distribution and network relations, Sinclair
Another internal candidate, Faber knows as much about retrans deals as anybody and would be an option if Sinclair prioritizes distribution for this position.
■ 50-1: Ken Solomon, president, Tennis Channel
Solomon already runs another of Sinclair’s sports networks in Tennis Channel. I would expect this longtime exec to at least get a courtesy call.