Tim Davie, the chief executive of BBC Studios, has turned down the chance to run the English Premier League, dealing a blow to the league weeks after Susanna Dinnage bowed out of the chief executive role before she had even started the job.
Mr Davie was a leading contender to be chief executive when Ms Dinnage, a senior executive with Discovery, the US media group, was offered the job in November. Her abrupt withdrawal made him the favourite for the role but he has rejected the league’s latest overtures, according to people briefed on the discussions.
Mr Davie and the BBC declined to comment. However, he is known to have reassured colleagues that he was happy at BBC Studios, the broadcaster’s production and commercial arm, and intended to stay.
His decision leaves the league without a long-term successor to Richard Scudamore, who was chief executive for 19 years. Mr Scudamore oversaw steep increases in the value of the league’s media rights — blockbuster deals that filled club coffers with cash to finance big transfer deals and eye-watering salaries for the biggest stars.
Under Mr Scudamore, the Premier League became the world’s most-watched football league with a growing fan base in Asia and the US. During his tenure the value of UK rights to broadcast matches live, presently held by Sky and BT, rose from £670m to a peak of £5.1bn. The Premier League has also signed international television contracts worth a combined £3bn.
The league declined to comment about Mr Davie. However, the five-person panel chaired by Bruce Buck, which is in charge of the recruitment, has extended the search. Tom Betts, director of strategy with ITV, was another candidate before Ms Dinnage was offered the job but it is unclear whether he is still a contender.
The league’s unique shareholder structure, whereby the chief executive is accountable to its 20 clubs, may have been a factor in the decisions taken by Ms Dinnage and Mr Davie. One person briefed on Mr Davie’s negotiations with the league said some clubs had already begun to lobby him on various issues — before he had accepted the position.
Richard Masters, the league’s managing director, is acting as interim chief executive until a permanent successor can be found. It was hoped that the next chief executive would start in May.
The league is looking for a senior individual with experience of broadcast production, distribution and the international sale of rights.
The winning candidate will also have to manage divergent factions within the league’s 20-club membership. The so-called big six — Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham — are pushing for a larger slice of revenues, which are sold centrally by the league.
Presently, the winner of the Premier League receives about 1.8 times the money from all broadcasting revenues than that of the bottom club. But the “big six” are keen for their share of the prize pot to better reflect their pulling power with audiences and fans.
The clubs also wanted a say in the hiring of the chief executive and had urged Gavin Patterson, the chief executive of BT who is due to step down this month, to apply for the job, according to people briefed on the matter. However, he did not apply then and has not done so since Ms Dinnage withdrew.
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