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New Roles For Norby Williamson, Dave Roberts, Stephanie Druley Part of ESPN Changes

“Since assuming my new role in March, I have spent a significant amount of time contemplating how we can more efficiently manage our large, highly complex group, and be even more strategic, collaborative and successful.”

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Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN is in the midst of complying with layoffs mandated by The Walt Disney Company in an effort to slash $5.5 billion in operating costs, but is also going through the process of reassigning several key executives at the top of the company. Norby Williamson, the company’s Executive Editor and Head of Event and Studio Production, will now be overseeing NFL broadcasts and studio coverage. The responsibilities previously belonged to Stephanie Druley; however, her focus will be shifting at the company.

Earlier today, an internal memo was shared with ESPN employees divulging that Laura Gentile, executive vice president of marketing, will be leaving the business in October. Gentile is not part of the layoffs taking place at the company, and she will be replaced by Tina Thornton, current executive vice president of creative studio and marketing. Gentile was an integral part in organizing the espnW Summit and building the content brand.

In a different internal memo, ESPN President of Content Burke Magnus shared changes being made to the executive team at the company in an effort to continue producing informative and entertaining content and innovating around its live game broadcasts.

“Since assuming my new role in March, I have spent a significant amount of time contemplating how we can more efficiently manage our large, highly complex group, and be even more strategic, collaborative and successful,” Magnus said in the internal memo.

Dave Roberts, ESPN head of event and studio production, will oversee all college sports for the network excluding baseball and football and will duly be promoted. Mike Foss will continue reporting to Roberts, who will also add Meg Aronowitz, Kate Jackson, Ed Placey and Mike Shiffman to his leadership team at ESPN. Roberts will also oversee the impending production of The Pat McAfee Show, which is set to join the regular programming lineup this fall.

Williamson will continue to oversee SportsCenter and the company’s MLB and NHL properties in addition to other sports. Craig Lazarus, who is in charge of features, SCEU and CCU content for the network, will join Williamson’s team while the rest of it will stay the same.

In addition, ESPN Vice President of Content Strategy and Audio, Amanda Gifford, will manage all audio and radio properties for the company excluding podcasts. She will also expand oversight on the television side by having oversight on the universal coverage and talent groups and overall content strategy.

Rosalyn Durant, who recently returned to the network as the executive vice president of programming and acquisitions, sent out an additional internal memo with the changes in an effort to “streamline the responsibilities of programming leadership.” In the memo, she revealed that John Lasker has been promoted to senior vice president of ESPN+ and Nick Dawson to senior vice president of college sports programming and acquisitions. Lasker assumes the position previously held by Russell Wolff, a victim of a recent round of ESPN layoffs. Durant will be responsible for overseeing all of college sports, marking the first time the responsibility is garnered upon one executive.

The network also announced that Tim Bunnell will once again be the head of international programming – a role he held for 17 years before oversight was granted to Magnus. Bunnell will be maintaining and overseeing broadcasts for golf, soccer, tennis, Formula 1, racing and the network’s international sports channels. He was previously responsible for baseball, but the role has been handed off to Julie Sobieski, who will also be central to NHL coverage in addition to her duties with NFL, NBA, WNBA and combat sports programming. Lastly, Ilan Ben-Hanan will be the new head of programming strategy, an elevated position from his role as senior vice president of programming and content strategy he had held since February 2020.

Other moves at the company include Freddy Rolón assuming a new role as the head of digital content and audience expansion. Moreover, Kaitee Daley will now work as the vice president of social media for content optimization at ESPN Next.

This is a developing story. More information will be added as it is learned.

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FOX Sports Moving UFL Games to Friday Nights in 2025

“The regular season average television audience of 816,000 was more than 30% higher than the pace from the previous year.”

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FOX Sports CEO Eric Shanks recently confirmed a report from Deadline last month that said United Football League games would move to Friday nights in 2025. The Deadline report had said FOX planned to replace WWE Smackdown with sports coverage from college football and basketball as well as games from the UFL.

Shanks’ comments were made during a Zoom with reporters about the news of their new agreement with the NTT IndyCar Series. SI’s Mike Mitchell reported that the UFL worked with FOX to move the games so they could complete their auto racing deal.

Shanks said many of FOX’s UFL games would be moved to Friday night when asked about the change but did not provide more detail.

The UFL was split between FOX and ABC/ESPN this season. The regular season average television audience of 816,000 was more than 30% higher than the pace from the previous year and the recent conference championship games were up 57% over the averages from the USFL and XFL last season. According to Mitchell, the league saw a large increase in the 18-49 demographic on FOX compared to USFL programming in 2023.

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Report: WNBA Could Quadruple Media Rights Fees

Under the current structure, the WNBA makes a reported $60 million annually from its media rights deals with The Walt Disney Company, Amazon’s Prime Video, CBS and Ion.

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(Illustration) | Courtesy: Women's National Basketball Association

The NBA is reportedly in the process of formalizing new media rights deals with The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal and Amazon’s Prime Video expected to be worth a collective $76 billion over the course of the deal. At the same time, the NBA is also negotiating media rights for the WNBA in which it has an ownership stake of approximately 60%. The WNBA could quadruple its annual media rights fee within these negotiations, according to a new report from Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports.

Under the current structure, the WNBA makes a reported $60 million annually from its media rights deals with The Walt Disney Company, Amazon’s Prime Video, CBS and Ion. Throughout the season thus far, the WNBA has seen its ratings increase, drawing more than 1 million viewers across several matchups throughout the regular season. Moreover, discussion surrounding the league is further assimilating into the sports vernacular surrounding stars such as Caitlin Clark, A’ja Wilson, Sabrina Ionescu and Breanna Stewart.

Ben Strauss of The Washington Post outlined how the NBA is in the process of considering one total bid from media companies that combines the value of media rights for the NBA and WNBA. With the league itself determining the value of media rights for the WNBA, he argues that it could either be “rocket fuel” for the league or that its augmented popularity “is more of an afterthought.” The possibility exists that it could be a combination of both extremes as well, but by having the league negotiate its media rights deal, quantifying the true value could be a more difficult task.

In a report from earlier in the year, McCarthy stated that the WNBA is likely to negotiate its own separate media rights deal if it is not receiving the remuneration that it wants. The WNBA attained its most-watched opening month in league history, averaging 1.32 million viewers for games across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, CBS, Ion and NBA TV. Moreover, the league had its most-attended opening month in its 26-year history with 400,000 fans at games through the end of May and a rise in sales of WNBA-branded merchandise by 236% year-over-year.

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NBA Finals Game 3 Up 2% on ABC and ESPN

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Game 3 of the NBA Finals series which saw Boston take a three games to none lead in the series was up 2% from last year’s Game 3. The game averaged 11,426,000 viewers and peaked at 13,926,000 at 10:45 p.m. ET.

The game was the top draw in all of television for the night and took the top spot in all of the key demographics. So far through three games, the series is even with the television numbers from 2023.

NBA Countdown, the show which airs right before the game begins, was also up two percent compared to the same show a year ago. NBA Countdown averaged 4,330,000 viewers. Through three games, the show is up five percent from last season’s pregame shows.

The Celtics will look to secure their 18th NBA Championship when the two teams meet again for Game 4 tonight at 8:30 ET. If a Game 5 is necessary, it would be played on Monday, June 17.

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