Burke Magnus and Russell Wolff

Burke Magnus and Russell Wolff

n June 2021, Burke Magnus was promoted to the new title of president, programming and original content. A 26-year ESPN veteran, he previously served as executive vice president, programming acquisitions and scheduling since May 2015, adding oversight of ESPN’s relationship with BAMTech in June 2017 and of original content in November 2020. In making the announcement, Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content said, “Burke is a talented leader and collaborative colleague who has been instrumental in guiding ESPN through what has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging and critical periods in our history. He is an industry-leading programming strategist who continues to take on new challenges with his signature combination of relationship building and creativity.” Magnus is responsible for all programming and rights acquisition and scheduling, as well as ESPN and ESPN+ original content development and scheduling (including ESPN Films and 30 for 30 franchise). In his role, Magnus is responsible for rightsholder relationships, content strategy and cross-platform programming rights acquisition/scheduling on a global basis. He is a key driver of Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer priority, including ESPN+, through his team’s close collaboration with DMED (Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution). In late 2020 and 2021, he guided ESPN and The Walt Disney Company through one of its most active and notable sports rights acquisition periods. He helped drive new, cross-platform (linear, direct-to-consumer, digital, social, etc.) agreements and/or extensions with the NFL, MLB, NHL, SEC, LaLiga and more. Additionally, he led a programming team that collaborated with numerous league, conference and event partners to navigate the postponement, cancellation and rescheduling of thousands of events across ESPN platforms in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak. Previous agreements forged during Magnus’ time as executive vice president include the NBA, the Masters and PGA Championship, UFC, the German Bundesliga, and more. Magnus previously served as senior vice president, programming and acquisitions (January 2014 – May 2015), and senior vice president, college sports programming, since March 2008. For years, Magnus set the strategic direction of the company’s college sports content which included acquiring, scheduling and programming college football, college basketball and NCAA Championships across the ESPN networks. He played an integral role in securing long-term rights to the College Football Playoff, the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls, the NCAA and some of the nation’s top college athletics conferences, including the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. From November 2004 through March 2008, Magnus served as vice president and general manager of ESPNU, the 24-hour college sports network. He guided all programming, production and operations and led the inter-departmental team responsible for the growth and development of the network and related multi-media initiatives. Under his direction, men’s college basketball ratings increased over multiple consecutive seasons and new initiatives such as Bracket Buster Saturday and College GameDay (basketball) were introduced. Magnus joined ESPN in 1995 as a program associate and in 1996 was promoted to program planner. In 1998, he advanced to program manager and later became director of brand management in 2000 (later changed to director, programming and acquisitions), primarily responsible for ESPN’s men’s college basketball programming and scheduling. From 2002-04, Magnus was a member of the ESPN Original Entertainment (EOE) team where he served as the project manager for several programs, including the biopic on the life of Dale Earnhardt entitled “3”, which was critically acclaimed and the second-highest rated movie of 2004 on ad-supported cable. Magnus has been named to the annual CableFax 100, which salutes the industry’s top power players and game changers, each year since 2018. He was honored with the National Football Foundation’s prestigious Legacy Award in 2013 for his support and leadership in promoting college football. In 2006, Magnus was also named to the distinguished Sports Business Journal Forty Under 40, honoring the most promising young executives in sports business under the age of 40. A native of Ridgewood, N.J., Magnus graduated from Holy Cross in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in history and then received his master’s degree in sport management from the University of Massachusetts in 1994. During this time, he also served as a programming intern for CBS Sports from 1993 to 1994. UMass awarded him the Distinguished Alumnus Award by the McCormack Department of Sport Management in 2011. Magnus is an active board member for a variety of organizations, including the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, and the McCormack Advisory Board for the Department of Sport Management at UMass. He is also on the Board of Advisors for the Allan “Bud” Selig Sports Law and Business program at the Arizona State University Law School, and he is part of the National Football Foundation Awards Committee, which annually selects the National Scholar-Athlete and Campbell Trophy recipients. As executive vice president and general manager of ESPN+, Russell Wolff is responsible for leadership, management and oversight of all aspects of ESPN+, the industry-leading multi-sport, direct-to-consumer streaming service from The Walt Disney Company’s Direct-to-Consumer and International (DTCI) segment and ESPN. In the role, Wolff works with the leadership teams at DTCI and ESPN to drive the ESPN+ business and grow its subscriber base. Wolff drives the collaboration across programming, product development, technology, content, finance and marketing teams in both business segments. He also works closely with teams in both DTCI and ESPN on the overall management and commercialization of ESPN-branded digital products globally. ESPN+ is a foundational piece of The Walt Disney Company’s strategy to develop more direct relationships with consumers and provide them with the entertainment and sports content they want most, with greater choice, personalization and convenience than ever before. Launched in April 2018, ESPN+ reached 2 million subscribers in less than a year and offers fans more than 10,000 live events, acclaimed original programming and an on-demand library. Under Wolff’s leadership and direction, ESPN+ delivers a robust programming lineup to fans, including exclusive MLB, NHL, UFC and Top Rank Boxing events, domestic and international soccer, college sports, grand slam tennis, rugby, cricket and more, as well as acclaimed series featuring some of the biggest names in sports, exclusive studio shows, the full library of ESPN’s award-winning 30 for 30 films and premium editorial content. Sports fans subscribe to ESPN+ for just $4.99 a month (or $49.99 per year). It is available as an integrated part of the ESPN App (on mobile and connected devices) and ESPN.com. Prior to his current role, Wolff served as executive vice president and managing director, ESPN International, where he was responsible for overseeing all aspects of ESPN’s international businesses, which included networks reaching more than 60 countries and territories across all seven continents and a global digital media portfolio, which included more than a dozen editions of ESPN.com and the ESPN app, ESPNCricinfo, several ESPN-branded streaming platforms and multiple other digital initiatives. In 2016, Wolff also added oversight of ESPN’s U.S. Hispanic business initiatives, including ESPN Deportes television, one of the leading Spanish-language sports cable networks serving Hispanics in the U.S. Wolff led the company in developing innovative partnerships with key players in China, India and the UK, as well as playing an instrumental role in ESPN’s growth in Latin America — helping it become a leading multimedia business that includes 13 television networks, digital media, a diverse portfolio of sports programming and offices in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. Since 2014, Wolff has also guided ESPN’s programming and multimedia relationship with Special Olympics, including multiyear, multimedia deals for coverage of the the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria, the 2018 US Games in Seattle and the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi. Wolff first joined ESPN in 1997 as vice president, ESPN international, managing the company’s business interests in the Pacific Rim. In 1998, he joined ESPN Star Sports, as vice president of programming and event management and was later promoted to senior vice president. Wolff returned to ESPN in 2000 as senior vice president to manage programming, marketing, and the company’s businesses in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. After graduating from Dartmouth College with an A.B. degree in 1989, Wolff began his career at the Leo Burnett Company in Chicago (1989-1992). Shortly afterwards, he returned to Dartmouth and received his M.B.A. from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration. From 1994 to 1997, he worked at MTV Networks as director, market development, handling affiliate sales and marketing to alternative distributors for MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, and Nick at Nite’s TV Land. Wolff currently serves on the Board of Advisors for the Amos Tuck School of Business and previously served on the Dartmouth Alumni Council where he was President. Russell and his wife, Patricia, have two sons.
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