Dinnage will be one of most powerful women in sport as Premier League chief

Guardian sport on 13 November 2018

The television executive Susanna Dinnage is to become one of the most powerful women in professional sport after being named Richard Scudamore’s successor at the Premier League.

Dinnage will take up her role as chief executive at the beginning of next year. She is currently the global president of Animal Planet, part of the Discovery group of TV channels. She replaces Scudamore, who will step down from his position as executive chairman after nearly 20 years in charge.

“I am excited at the prospect of taking on this fantastic role,” Dinnage said after her appointment was confirmed at an extraordinary meeting in London on Tuesday. “The Premier League means so much to so many people. It represents the pinnacle of professional sport and the opportunity to lead such a dynamic and inspirational organisation is a great privilege. With the support of clubs and the team, I look forward to extending the success of the League for many years to come.”

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Bruce Buck, the chairman of the Premier League’s nominations committee and responsible for the appointment, said Dinnage was “the outstanding choice” for the job.

He said: “We are very pleased to appoint such a capable leader to this important role. 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.

“She is a leading figure in the broadcasting industry, a proven business executive and a great developer of people. She is ideally suited to the role and we are confident she will be able to take the Premier League on to new heights.”

Dinnage will join a Premier League in rude health. The league generated a record £4.5bn in revenue in the 2016-17 season, with that figure projected to rise further over the next two years.

Scudamore transformed English football through his ability to monetise TV rights and now it will be Dinnage’s job to keep the lucrative deals flowing. But she will face a very different landscape to her predecessor, with traditional broadcast companies challenged by digital disrupters.

Just hours before Dinnage’s appointment was announced, the Premier League agreed a deal with the digital broadcaster DAZN for the rights to show league matches in Spain. Earlier this year, Amazon also dipped its toe in the water, buying the UK rights to show two Premier League matchdays on its Prime service.

Dinnage comes to her new role with years of experience in negotiating broadcast deals during her decade at Discovery. One such deal led her into a dispute with Sky TV, the Premier League’s most longstanding broadcast partner. In January last year, Discovery temporarily removed their channels from the Sky platform after the broadcaster had planned to cut the fees it paid to carry them. While Sky argued Discovery did not provide enough viewers, others said the company was looking to save money after it had agreed a record £5bn for Premier League rights.

Dinnage attacked Sky publicly, claiming it was using “its dominant market position to further its own commercial interest over those of viewers and independent broadcasters” and said the future of British TV was under threat.

By February a new deal had been brokered. A Discovery spokesperson at the time described the terms as “materially better” than the deal which had preceded it.

Dinnage will now have to work very closely with Sky, which holds the lion’s share of TV rights in the UK and a company Scudamore made a special effort to thank on announcing his departure. She will also have to deal with a set of shareholders, the Premier League clubs, who are increasingly pushing for change. This summer the league’s richest clubs negotiated a greater share of international TV revenue, breaking an arrangement that had existed since the formation of the competition.

Recent reports have also described continued attempts by the biggest teams in Europe, including five from England, to create a new, invite-only Super League which would be a disaster for the Premier League.

Scudamore no longer has to concern himself with such matters. With his successor now appointed, he will leave his role before the end of the year. The man who turned English football’s top flight into a global entertainment brand is expected to receive a £5m golden handshake on his departure. The league’s 20 clubs have been asked to contribute £250,000 from their own funds to pay for it.

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