Forum: Executives on the move to watch
Seven noteworthy personnel moves you may have missed as we conclude the summer daze of August amid the pandemic:
The talent agent who ran the broadcasting group at CAA Sports saw his role grow over the years as he became involved in more and more deals at the agency. Now, he builds on that success to become president of WWE. Kahn, who earned the trust of Vince McMahon during deals together, is known for his strong relationships, his ability to manage large personalities and to see around corners. But the new position will mark a significant change for the largely below-radar executive, as like any first-time president of a public company, he will have to lead a large workforce and adjust to a more visible profile while dealing with shareholder scrutiny.
The founder of RedBird Capital Partners hasn’t slowed since he formed a joint venture to represent player licensing rights at OneTeam Partners. He just launched a SPAC — RedBall Capital — that’s sitting on $575M of cash, triggering intense speculation around the industry about where he deploys that capital. Separately, he, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dany Garcia successfully — and surprisingly — bought the XFL out of bankruptcy for $15 million. Cardinale, the former Goldman Sachs executive, isn’t known for making poor bets, so his strategy around a reconstituted XFL will be particularly interesting, as the ownership group must embark on a new round of media deals, develop a market strategy and decide when to realistically relaunch amid the pandemic. That alone will take some serious investments. No one questions the amazing promotional power of The Rock, but it’s uncertain who will even lead XFL 3.0. The XFL showed promise before the pandemic, so insiders are watching what new elements Cardinale and his group will add to try and make this long-attempted idea a sustainable business.
Noah Garden and Chris Marinak
The promotion of Garden (see story) and Marinak this month at MLB sees them take on the many roles of outgoing Deputy Commissioner Tony Petitti. The quiet, cerebral Marinak, a former pitcher at the University of Virginia, will continue to oversee strategic initiatives, while adding special events, fan engagement, digital content and marketing and social media. He has a keen eye for envisioning how new technology can be incorporated into the game and should do well in this role. Meanwhile, Garden becomes CRO and will take a leading role in ongoing media negotiations and with MLB Network, as well as consumer products. Garden has an infectious personality — he can rally the troops, has deep relationships and brings strong sales chops. The duo are clearly growing, important voices in Commissioner Rob Manfred’s inner circle.
He was at MLB for 12 years, and with Manfred a young 61 years old, Petitti may not have seen a path to becoming commissioner. So, he joined one of the most respected executives in sports, entertainment and gaming, Bobby Kotick, in becoming Activision Blizzard president. Bringing in a seasoned media and league executive should immediately bolster the efforts of the Overwatch League, which is still finding its way with its franchise and regional team strategy. Kotick’s well-financed owners will welcome the firepower that Petitti brings, especially if he can drive revenue and improve their local franchising and event strategy while building out other consumer products and media assets.
Consistent with her low-key style, Turcke quietly announced her departure as COO of the NFL earlier this month. The Canadian media executive was a surprising choice for the role in 2018 after one year overseeing the NFL Network, but she won over many inside — and outside — the league office for being a level-headed, effective operator. That alone is no easy task. The people I trust all say her departure was her choice and not a surprise as she was never considered a league lifer. Now, Peter O’Reilly, executive vice president of club business and league events, and CMO Tim Ellis both gain a bigger voice, joining a small group reporting directly to Roger Goodell.
I was never sure this former attorney, agent, NBA front-office executive-turned ESPN basketball analyst was the right fit to lead an expansion MLS team as president. But I was wrong as Penn had a key role in the successful launch of LAFC, a team that hit all the right notes developing its culture and brand. He departed this month to lead a company he co-founded on COVID protective equipment, but the team is well positioned for continued success based on the staff and fundamentals he put in place.
First Look podcast, with Abe's take on player power and the potential for sweeping changes, at the 22:11 mark:
Abraham Madkour can be reached at email@example.com.