London: A television executive with a track record of battling with Sky has been unveiled as the groundbreaking new chief executive of the Premier League, making her the most powerful woman in British sport.
Susanna Dinnage, 51, who has worked for the past decade at US-pay TV giant Discovery, described her “great privilege” at replacing Richard Scudamore, who stands down later this year after being at the helm of England’s top-flight for 19 years.
Dinnage’s appointment took the footballing world by surprise, but former colleagues said that she would be a “breath of fresh air” for governing bodies currently dominated by grey men in blazers.
She has previous experience in negotiations for crown jewel sports assets and, as president of Discovery’s UK networks, Dinnage was last year at the centre of an unprecedented disagreement with Sky, attacking the broadcaster for failing to pay a “fair price” to the network. “Pay-television needs to be about more than just films and football,” she once said.
Club owners and chief executives of the 20 Premier League clubs were told of the decision yesterday afternoon after being summoned at short notice to the top tier’s London headquarters.
“I am excited at the prospect of taking on this fantastic role,” she said in a statement. “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.”
Dinnage, who has 20 years’ experience as a TV executive, joins the Premier League after narrowly missing out on landing the chief executive job at Channel 4.
The Fulham supporter, who was most recently global president at Discovery’s Animal Planet, is expected to receive a pay packet at least matching that of Scudamore, who earns a basic salary of £900,000 (Dh4.27 million) a year but receives closer to 2.5 million pounds a year with bonuses. The Premier League also plans to appoint a chair, who may perform the role part-time.
Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck, Leicester chief executive Susan Whelan and Burnley chairman Mike Garlick led the lengthy recruitment process to find Dinnage. The choice of a TV industry executive illustrates how negotiating future pay deals with broadcasters is considered by far the most crucial part of the role.
Dinnage beat Tim Davie, who runs BBC Studios, and Tom Betts, ITV’s strategy director, on a shortlist to run the world’s richest domestic football competition.
Buck said Dinnage will be 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,” he said. “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.”
He added that Scudamore had left the game in “great shape and with an excellent executive team and board able to fully support Susanna”.
Scudamore leaves a daunting legacy, having brokered record-breaking TV deals for the clubs, currently totalling £2.8 billion pounds in global rights packages. The league has already raised £8.3 billion alone for 2019 to 2022 and could go as high as £9 billion, a 20 per cent uplift on the previous deal.
Since joining Discovery in 2009, Dinnage, a married mother who lives in west London, served as general manager of the UK and Benelux businesses, as well as president for the UK arm and chief content officer for Discovery Networks International. During her time at Discovery, it considered mounting an audacious bid to break Sky’s stranglehold on Premier League football rights. It eyed a potential move into the market following a fast-track deal to take full control of Eurosport.
In 2015, Discovery made a surprise £1 billion move for the exclusive pan-European rights to the Olympic Games, with a sub-licensing deal with the BBC in the UK.
One former colleague told The Telegraph: “Susanna is a smart and talented brand-builder, and very much a left-field, ‘out there’ appointment — and a woman too in what has been with only a few exceptions a male-dominated world, which can only be applauded.”
One of her first tasks will be to put to bed talks of a breakaway European Super League.
JB Perrette, president and chief executive of Discovery Networks International, said: “Susanna has been a terrific leader for Discovery over the last 10 years. She has a strong understanding of brands and running diverse media businesses both in the UK and more recently with Animal Planet globally.
“She has been a fantastic teammate for all of us at Discovery and we are delighted that she has been given this unique and ground-breaking opportunity to lead one of the world’s pre-eminent sports organisations.”
Football Association chairman Greg Clarke said he was “delighted”, adding: “As part of the selection process The FA was required to ratify the appointment — and The FA board was unanimous.”
Scudamore announced in June that he would step down from his role as executive chairman. He will relinquish his duties at the end of this year.
— The Telegraph Group Ltd, London