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End of an era as Kürten to leave EBU next year

Stefan Kürten, executive director of sport at the European Broadcasting Union, is to step down in June 2020 after nearly two decades at the umbrella body of public-service broadcasters.

The EBU announced Kürten’s surprise departure this afternoon, noting that he has decided to leave and that it will “immediately launch the recruitment process for his replacement”.

Kürten, the executive director of Eurovision Sport, the EBU’s sports arm rebranded at the start of 2019, said that “now, after almost 20 years, it’s time for a change next summer”.

The 60-year-old German joined the EBU in 2001 as director of Eurovision operations and sports rights.

He arrived from ZDF, the German public-service broadcaster, where he was controller of sports rights but his ties to the Geneva-based broadcast body date back to 1998, when he became chairman of the EBU Sports Committee.

Prior to 2017, Kürten was also responsible for the strategic direction, development and management of the EBU´s operational and commercial activities, positioning and enlarging the Eurovision distribution network globally and developing its business of live sport and news transmissions.

Between 2010 and 2017, he held the position of the EBU’s director of sports and business, before becoming executive director of the EBU’s sports operation.

Kürten said today: “It has been fantastic to work with such extraordinary EBU colleagues, Members, federations and partners throughout all these years on a range of activities – from sports rights, production and distribution to our commercial activities.

“It has been extremely interesting to drive success and changes in all these areas during an important period of transformation for the sport and media industry. I am very proud of all that we have achieved together.”

Noel Curran, director general at the EBU, thanked Kürten for his “enormous contribution”.

He added: “He successfully managed the growth and innovation of our commercial business and led our sports activities through a period of unprecedented change, introducing new services, securing major sports rights deals as well as launching exciting new sporting events such as the European Championships. I would also like to extend special thanks to Stefan on behalf of our Members for all the years of service and dedication to the EBU community.”

There was a restructure of the EBU’s sports department in 2018 as the acquisitions responsibilities were no longer split by summer and winter sports. This came after the exits of summer sports head Julien Ternisien (to Infront) and the retirement of winter sports chief Ingolfur Hannesson (who now works as a consultant to Infront). Eir Sport’s Glen Killane arrived in the middle of 2018 as deputy director of sport.

Along with successfully building up the sports rights portfolio during his time at the EBU, Kürten also had to endure the loss of Olympics broadcast rights in Europe when, in 2009, the Sportfive agency was awarded the Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 rights. The EBU then lost out in the bidding for the European rights from 2018 to 2024 as Discovery shelled out €1.3 billion ($1.44 billion) for the contract.

Along with retaining international federation rights deals despite the loss of the Olympics rights, the EBU, under Kürten, sought to shake off an external perception of being the industry “dinosaur”. Strategic moves in recent years have included digital solutions offered to federations and EBU members, distribution alliances with ESPN (for IAAF rights) and IMG (for FEI rights) or the development of a virtual reality app.

Kürten was also heavily involved in last year’s European Championships co-hosted by Glasgow and Berlin, sitting on the 2018 European Championships Board. The event was broadcast live by EBU members in 34 different countries.

Having studied international law, Kürten began his media industry career 30 years ago by joining ZDF as personal advisor to the broadcaster’s director of current affairs, news and sports.