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EXCLUSIVE: DAZN chief executive Denyer steps down

Simon Denyer is leaving his role as chief executive of DAZN Group, the global sports subscription service and media company, SportBusiness Media understands, amid an executive restructure that increases the involvement of owner Access Industries, the multinational industrial group.

Denyer is to be replaced by James Rushton, currently chief revenue officer, who becomes acting chief executive. Denyer will retain an association by taking a sports investment advisory role at Access Industries.

An internal memo from John Skipper, DAZN group executive chairman, informed staff of the changes today (Monday). The memo, seen by SportBusiness Media, said that Access Industries owner Len Blavatnik “has asked Simon Denyer to assume a new role at Access Industries to advise on new ventures in sport”.

Rushton was chief executive of the DAZN OTT streaming business before Perform Group divided its assets to create two separate entities in September 2018. Denyer was at that time chief executive of Perform Group, having co-founded the company with Oli Slipper in 2007 (upon the merger of Premium TV and Inform Group).

In addition, Ed McCarthy, Access Industries’ corporate director and portfolio manager, has joined DAZN and will sit on the company’s executive committee, playing “a critical role” in delivering the group strategy, the memo read. McCarthy has already liaised with the DAZN senior leadership in recent years.

The changes will take effect immediately.

Rushton is one of the old guard at DAZN/Perform, having joined Premium TV in 2003 after just under four years as commercial director at English football side Birmingham City. During his time at the group he has also held senior roles including managing director of the APAC region, along with managing director of Australia and New Zealand.

Skipper described Denyer as “an innovator across many elements of the sports media industry” and said his talents would be “a tremendous asset to Access as that organisation looks to explore new opportunities in the sports landscape”.

The need for funding at DAZN has become more acute in recent months, with the OTT streaming operation hit hard by the Covid-19 shutdown.

Skipper said in the memo that DAZN remains “well positioned” and that Access Industries supports its direction. This comes after DAZN last week secured a package of domestic Bundesliga broadcast rights in Germany, Switzerland and Austria from 2021-22 to 2024-25, an indication of the owner’s ongoing appetite for premium sports rights despite the problems caused by Covid-19.

At the end of March, DAZN began to inform sports rights-holders that it would not make its next rights fee payments for any content that has yet to be delivered. An unspecified number of the company’s 2,600 staff were also furloughed.

The measures were put in place as DAZN looked to survive the crisis and revive the business later in the year.

Rights payments have resumed as live sport has returned, with a deal recently struck for Serie A rights payments, and it was recently reported that Blavatnik was looking for investors in DAZN.

It also emerged recently that DAZN Group was in “final stage” negotiations to sell its Goal.com football website to US-based private equity firm TPG Capital. Executives “with knowledge of the discussions” told The New York Times that TPG is in talks to secure the business for as much as $125m (€111.3m). News of the TPG talks coincided with Blavatnik raising $1.9bn by offloading shares in Warner Music.

Goal.com and the SportingNews and Spox.com websites are housed under DAZN Group, which also includes the flagship OTT streaming business and the global rights partnerships operations. The data and betting sides of the business became part of the Perform Content operation, which then merged with US-based sports, data and technology company Stats as part of an investment by Vista Equity Partners, the US private equity and venture capital firm.

Before the pandemic struck, DAZN hired Goldman Sachs with a view to raising as much as $500m in investments.

DAZN currently operates in nine countries – Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain Switzerland, and the US – and had planned to roll out a global service in May (including a long-awaited launch in Southeast Asia). That launch remains on hold.