The English Premier League hired broadcasting executive Susanna Dinnage as chief executive on Tuesday, making her the most powerful female executive in global sports.
Dinnage will leave her role as global president of Discovery’s Animal Planet brand early next year to succeed Richard Scudamore running the world’s richest soccer competition.
Scudamore was CEO from 1999 to 2014 when he was promoted to executive chairman.
The new structure will see the league have a separate CEO and non-executive chairman again, but the latter position has yet to be filled “It represents the pinnacle of professional sport and the opportunity to lead such a dynamic and inspirational organisation is a great privilege,” Dinnage said.
“With the support of clubs and the team, I look forward to extending the success of the league for many years to come.” The appointment of Dinnage highlights the league’s focus on broadcasting, as most of its revenue comes from selling television rights. She started her career at MTV Networks and spent the last decade at Discovery.
“We had a very strong field, but Susanna was the outstanding choice given her track record in managing complex businesses through transformation and digital disruption,” said Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck, who played a role in the appointment. “She is a leading figure in the broadcasting industry, a proven business executive and a great developer of people.”
Scudamore has overseen the value of the Premier League’s broadcasting rights soaring 12-fold to more than 8 billion pounds ($10 billion), with Comcast-owned British pay-TV operator Sky the league’s biggest TV partner. While running Discovery’s British operation last year, Dinnage threatened to remove their portfolio of channels from the Sky platform in a row over costs. “Pay television needs to be about more than just films and football,” Dinnage said. “The consumer can’t be expected to fund all of Sky’s investments and get less and less choice in return.”
Dinnage will not have to negotiate a rights deal with Sky for a couple of years.
Sky, which has aired the Premier League since its inception in 1992, signed a new deal in February worth 3.579 billion pounds to show 128 games per season from 2019 to 2022.
Scudamore’s longevity highlighted his ability to avoid major rows between the clubs, with 14 out of 20 Premier League teams having to agree on any changes to the rules.
Dinnage has to maintain that same unity between the smaller teams and powerful wealthy clubs, including Liverpool and Manchester rivals City and United, who have been pushing for a greater slice of foreign television revenue. She will also have to navigate the league through uncertainty as Britain prepares to leave the European Union in March, with there being big question marks about English clubs’ access to players from the continent if free movement of labour ends.
“Like many other organisations dependent on a combination of domestic and international talent, we are waiting to better understand what the political and regulatory landscape will be after the UK leaves the European Union,” the league said in a separate statement Tuesday. “Access to talented footballers from across Europe has played a key part in the growth of the Premier League, with match attendance and global interest increasing significantly as high quality foreign players have taken their place in the competition with and against the best British and Irish players.
“We have held positive discussions with Government about the importance of access to European players for our clubs, and the many cultural and economic benefits a globally popular Premier League brings to the UK.”