Jul 31, 2023 - Economy

Ex-Disney execs Mayer, Staggs advising on ESPN plan

Left to right: Former Disney executive and Candle Media co-founder Kevin Mayer, Former Disney executive and Candle Media co-founder Tom Staggs, Photo of Mayer by Valerie Macon/Getty Images, Photo of Staggs by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Former senior Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs are advising the company to help it analyze and develop strategic options for ESPN, sources told Axios.

Why it matters: The retaining of the respected duo, who left after both were passed over for the Disney CEO role, shows the high priority being placed on determining the future of the struggling sports entertainment juggernaut housed within the company.

Of note: Mayer and Staggs launched their own digital media company, Candle Media, in 2021, after leaving Disney. Puck was first to report news of their ESPN advisory roles.

State of play: Both Mayer and Staggs will remain full time in their roles as co-CEOs of Candle Media while taking on the ESPN consulting project, sources say.

Details: Staggs and Mayer are being brought on to help Iger evaluate major strategic decisions around ESPN as the company evaluates its business in the streaming era.

  • Iger said last month he was considering a sale of the company's linear TV networks, including broadcast giant ABC, though it still plans to keep ESPN.
  • CNBC reported weeks later that Iger and ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro are considering bringing on a strategic partner for ESPN, which could include bringing on professional sports leagues on as minority investors.
  • A source told Axios the pair will work closely with Pitaro on the consulting project.
  • Puck said in its report that Staggs and Mayer are evaluating how Disney's linear properties align with its streaming strategy.

Between the lines: Mayer and Staggs have strengthened their experience with streaming and sports since leaving Disney.

  • Candle, with the backing of Blackstone, has acquired a slew of production companies, including Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, Isaac Lee's Exile Content, social change publisher ATTN:, and Faraway Road Productions.
  • In addition to briefly serving as TikTok's CEO, Mayer also served as the Chairman of the Board of DAZN Group, a global sports streamer.
  • Staggs is on the board of Spotify. Both he and Mayer serve as partners at Smash Capital, an investment firm that's invested in companies like Epic Games and DraftKings.

Flashback: Mayer left Disney in 2020 to become the CEO of TikTok. He told CNBC he was hoping to be named CEO, but Disney CEO Bob Iger named Disney's parks chief Bob Chapek his replacement instead when he first said he would retire in 2020.

  • Staggs left Disney suddenly in 2016, after being considered heir apparent to Iger. He served as a special advisor to Iger for a few months after his departure.

The bottom line: Few media executives understand Disney's business and the media industry as well as Mayer and Staggs.

  • Staggs and Mayer both spent more than two decades with Disney before their departures.
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