With Richard Scudamore being substituted off after a robust 19-year performance for Discovery’s Susanna Dinnage, Charley Sambridge asks what opportunities the Premier League’s latest hire presents.
Last week it was announced that Susanna Dinnage will leave Discovery and join a Premier League in rude health. The league generated a record £4.5bn in revenue in the 2016-17 season, with that figure projected to rise further over the next two years.
Part of Dinnage’s appeal to the Premier League would have undoubtedly been her expertise in negotiating broadcast deals, however that certainly isn’t all that she’s bringing to the role. Dinnage’s appointment is the latest in a series of progressive hires by the Premier League, who are clearly very conscious of the external pale, male and stale image many sports governing bodies have. Alongside Claudia Arney, the former HM Treasury director about to take over as interim chairman, and Emma Wilkinson, the Premier League’s Director of Communications, Dinnage will play a crucial role in dragging the beautiful game into the 21st century; forming a female tripartite at the helm of an organisation traditionally dominated by men.
Her appointment as Chief Executive will come as a surprise to many as she was not mentioned among the early contenders, who included former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Yet her experience of broadcasting and hard negotiating are the main considerations for this role and Dinnage has that in abundance, having worked at MTV and later becoming Chair of the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA). From a communications perspective, Dinnage’s selection is a great opportunity for the League. One of Britain’s leading media executives, Dinnage has the pedigree to take the Premier League to the next level.
However, it’s not just Dinnage’s ability to improve the Premier League’s already-burgeoning financials which mark her as a savvy hire, but also her outsider perspective which could prove to be her most significant contribution. Unencumbered by football’s old boys club mentality, Dinnage can cut through the noise and help the League reconnect with fans.
Outgoing Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore can be proud of the legacy he left, having navigated the Premier League through choppy waters and leaving the organisation in a healthy financial state, while also handling child assault allegations with real diligence and care. He is a shareholder’s dream – delivering a return on investment and maintaining the Premier League’s outstanding reputation as the epitome of world football.
However, a £5m whip-round to give departing Scudamore a golden handshake does raise questions about how senior people in sport are rewarded, especially given current campaigns such as Twenty’s Plenty, which calls upon football clubs to cap away match tickets to £20. This gesture will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the man on the street; an example of what some see as a clear disconnect between those who support football and those who run the sport. While Scudamore has left Dinnage a robust platform to build upon, the terms of his departure have revived long-held animosity towards the way the sporting world’s most senior officials are recompensed.
While the Premier League has enjoyed incredible success, little has been done to effectively communicate with fans and assuage their grievances. Plans to stage games across the globe, rising ticket prices, and now executive bonuses are likely to risk alienating Premier League fans, pushing people towards the lower leagues or other sports like rugby and cricket where profit doesn’t reign supreme.
This challenge, and the way Dinnage gets the Premier League to communicate with fans should be top of her in-tray when she takes up her role in the new year. The task is significant, but not insurmountable. Her first move should be a strong and ambitious statement, communicating the human face of football, insisting that more of the league’s astronomical profits will find their way to the grassroots game – for men and women. She will want to get fans onside early, and a direct fan-focused approach can do just that. As a Fulham season ticket holder, Dinnage will be acutely aware of both the challenges and opportunities that top-flight football presents.