News Corporation and ESPN have entered into a definitive agreement under which a unit of News Corporation will buy ESPN’s 50 percent equity interest in ESPN STAR Sports (ESS). The transaction will allow News Corporation units to own and operate all of the ESS businesses while providing ESPN more independence and flexibility in future support of The Walt Disney Company’s overall efforts in Asia (ESPN is 80 percent owned by ABC, Inc., which is an indirect subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company).
The transaction is subject to customary regulatory approvals and ESS will continue to be jointly managed by the two companies until the transaction closes.
“News Corporation's acquisition of the interest of ESS that we did not already own continues the program of simplifying our operating model, consolidating our affiliate ownership structures, and furthers our commitment to delivering incredible sports programming to consumers across the globe, and particularly enhancing our position in sports programming in emerging markets,” said James Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer and chairman and chief executive officer international, News Corporation.
“After 16 years jointly managing ESS, we have decided to independently pursue future opportunities in Asia,” said John Skipper, president of ESPN and co-chairman, Disney Media Networks. “We are extremely proud of our role in building ESS into what it is today, and now with the growing digital landscape in Asia, we look forward to continuing to serve Asian sports fans through ESPN-branded digital businesses like ESPNCricinfo, the leading digital cricket brand in the world, ESPNFC and ESPN Mobile.”
News Corporation and ESPN also announced that Manu Sawhney, managing director of ESS, will transition his role of managing director to Peter Hutton, currently senior vice president of sports for Fox International Channels (FIC). Hutton will report to the ESS Board, and will be based out of Singapore. Sawhney will be staying with the company until 31 August to work with Hutton on a smooth transition.
“In his 16 years with the company, Manu has been a key architect of ESS’s growth, and his contributions since its inception have helped ESS become a leading sports media company in Asia, bringing world class events -- from the ICC Cricket World Cup to the London 2012 Olympic Games -- to fans across the region. He led ESS’s expansion to 24 countries across multiple platforms and networks, including launching STAR Cricket, ESPN HD, STAR Cricket HD, ESPNEWS and ESPN Player. We are very grateful to him for his significant contributions to the company during his time in India and Singapore,” said Jan Koeppen, chief operating officer, Europe and Asia, News Corporation, and Russell Wolff, executive vice president and managing director, ESPN International.
They added, “Peter is a very talented sports media executive, and we believe his extensive experience in sports rights and production will serve ESS well as the business enters into a new phase of development.”
Sawhney said, “It has been a privilege to serve News Corporation and ESPN at ESS for 16 exciting years. I have had an opportunity to grow with the company and work with an amazing group of people during my tenure, expanding our business to 28 networks across television, online, broadband and mobile. As the organisation begins a new chapter under new ownership, I have decided to move on after the transition and I am looking forward to the next exciting phase of my career.”
“I am excited to take on this new role,” Hutton said. “I look forward to working with the ESS team to consolidate ESS’s leadership position in sports broadcasting in Asia, and to continue the Company’s record of broadcasting excellence in serving sports fans.”
Hutton joined Fox International Channels Sports in 2011 after 20 years in the international sports television business. He previously worked at Broad Reach Media, a media consultancy firm. Prior to that, Hutton was at Ten Sports in Dubai from 2002-2009, where he eventually served as chief operating officer. From 1993-2002, he ran TWI, the television division of IMG, running their Indian business as well as television production for Asia. He was a radio and television journalist, commentator and presenter from 1982-1993.