Exclusive: Jeff Zucker in Talks for New Gig
CNN's former chief is poised to head to the world of sports
Everyone’s been waiting to see where in the world Jeff Zucker would land in the wake of his CNN exit. The Ankler can now report that the executive, whose tenure at the news network ended in February under a cloud of controversy, is poised to head into an arena where he’s long been passionate: sports.
Zucker, who oversaw Turner Sports under then-WarnerMedia, is in talks to lead a $1 billion sports investment fund for RedBird Capital Partner’s Gerry Cardinale, the managing partner and CEO of the New York-based investment firm. Recent investments by RedBird include a stake in Skydance Media; a partnership with Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia to buy the XFL, the bankrupt football league founded by former WWE CEO Vince McMahon; and a partnership with Epic Games and Nike to take a stake in SpringHill, the production company founded by LeBron James and Maverick Carter.
The gig would be somewhat unconventional for Zucker — one of the few behind-the-camera executives who also is a household name. Although RedBird has plenty of cash and resources to grow its footprint in the world of sports, it doesn’t boast a brand that necessarily on the outside would be commensurate with Zucker’s profile and experience. While most industry insiders felt that Zucker could never return to the world of news given the controversies afflicting Zucker and his No. 2, Allison Gollust, at CNN — namely cozying up with then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a bid for Covid-era ratings — many believed the high-flying executive could still pivot to an established non-news brand like ESPN or a Hollywood production company. But few jobs like that are currently open. ESPN’s top post, for one, is filled after president Jimmy Pitaro signed a three-plus-year contract extension in February, around the same time that Zucker was ousted from CNN for a previously undisclosed affair with Gollust. Sources say Zucker even flirted with the idea of running for office, but those plans were nixed.
Though Zucker became something of a lightning rod figure following his fall from his perch at WarnerMedia, CNN’s then parent company, there’s no denying that he transformed the moribund cable news network into a formidable brand, whose output expanded beyond the 24/7 news cycle into award-winning documentaries like RBG and Three Identical Strangers. He also became something of a king-maker, helping to create the Donald Trump-as-politician phenomenon that became palatable to the masses, even as he and CNN became a frequent target of Trump’s Twitter wrath.
Zucker’s three-plus decades in news and entertainment that included his position as president and CEO of NBCUniversal also laid some of the groundwork for a late-career chapter in sports. He aggressively championed NBC’s Olympics coverage over the years, sparing no expense on NBC’s well-stocked teams on the ground. With oversight of Turner, he expanded the relationship with Major League Baseball and also moved into the hockey space, bringing NHL games to the network, as well as solidifying deals for NCAA men’s basketball and NBA games.
RedBird couldn’t be reached for comment.