Another prominent executive has left Comcast’s NBCUniversal, and this particular move has major sports implications on both ends. Following the April exit of NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell amidst a sexual discrimination/sexual harassment investigation and the May departure of NBCU head of advertising Linda Yaccarino for the CEO role at Twitter, NBC Sports Group chairman Pete Bevacqua is also leaving. But Bevacqua is headed for a new sports role, at Notre Dame.
Bevacqua will join the university on July 1. He’ll initially serve as a special assistant for athletics to university president Rev. John Jenkins, but will take over as athletic director in 2024 when Jack Swarbrick leaves that role. (The timing of Swarbrick’s exit is not specified beyond “in the first quarter.”) Sports Illustrated‘s Pat Forde broke that news Thursday:
— Pat Forde (@ByPatForde) June 8, 2023
Andrew Marchand of The New York Post added more on the NBC side, noting that Bevacqua’s direct reports will now report to Mark Lazarus (chairman, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming).
NEWS: NBC has just sent out a memo to its staff saying that all of Bevacqua's direct reports will now report into NBC Universal chairman Mark Lazarus until a replacement for Bevacqua is determined. https://t.co/euGUoYIeta
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) June 8, 2023
Before taking that role, Lazarus was Chairman, NBCUniversal Broadcast, Entertainment and Lifestyle Group, Sports and News. And he’s overseen NBC Sports Group in one way or another since 2011, and has been involved in a lot of sports rights deals with them. So he’s certainly familiar with what the company is doing on the sports side. (He’s got a lot on his plate, though, as he also took on more responsibility elsewhere following Shell’s exit.) And there are other veteran executives in that department too, including NBC Sports president of acquisitions and partnerships Jon Miller. So it’s not that NBC is suddenly without sports veterans.
But the exit of Bevacqua is still a big deal for NBC. He joined the company in 2018 as president of NBC Sports Group (after serving as CEO of the PGA of America), was promoted to chairman in 2020, and has been key to their strategy. And he’s been one of their key voices commenting on sports rights and personnel moves, including Drew Brees’ “lifestyle choice” exit. Now, as he told Forde, he’s making a lifestyle choice of his own in returning Notre Dame, where he’s a second-generation alum.
“This is a dream come true,” Bevacqua says. “With the exception of my family, nothing means more to me than Notre Dame. I don’t have a memory in my lifetime, quite literally, where Notre Dame wasn’t a part of it. At this stage of my life, I feel like everything I’ve done has prepared me for this.”
“I didn’t have a burning desire, necessarily, to be an athletic director. I had a burning desire to be the athletic director at Notre Dame.”
Bevacqua is certainly stepping in there at an interesting point, and he has big shoes to fill. The 69-year-old Swarbrick had held the ND AD role since 2008. (And, interestingly enough, he’s not characterizing this as a retirement: he told Forde he’d ““love to do one more thing in the industry,” but said this move was his call, and the timing involved leaving when Jenkins could pick the next AD.) In that time, he managed to preserve Notre Dame’s football independence, oversaw their 2012 non-football move from the Big East to the ACC, continued their TV run with NBC (including a 10-year extension through 2025 announced in 2013), and played key roles in College Football Playoff creation and expansion discussion.
But there are a lot of big decisions ahead for the Fighting Irish in the near future. Those include TV, where negotiations with NBC on an extension have already begun. That would seem to make some sense for both sides, with NBC further demonstrating their interest in college football presence with their Big Ten deal, and with Swarbrick previously talking about how exposure and promotion (which NBC certainly has provided) is the top priority for Notre Dame. And Bevacqua certainly knows NBC well, so while Swarbrick will remain in charge of athletics until 2024, Bevacqua may have some useful insights to add on those negotiations. (And with whatever deal is next, with NBC or elsewhere, being so critical to Notre Dame’s future, it seems likely Swarbrick will be consulting with and aligning with Bevacqua on what makes sense for the school.)
The other critical upcoming decision for Notre Dame is going to be about continuing with football independence or joining a conference. Under Swarbrick, that independence has been a key priority, and there’s no imminent indication of it changing. But the shifting conference realignment landscape has those discussions resurfacing a lot lately. The Big Ten reportedly has a specific escalator clause for Notre Dame, and if that conference continues to gain strength, that could be an option.
And while it looks less attractive at the moment, the ACC may be getting real desperate to try and add Notre Dame in football. That conference is falling further and further behind in media revenue, and with their current TV deals locked in through 2036, adding Notre Dame is one of the few things that could really improve their situation. And their recent some-animals-are-more-equal-than-others decision on revenue splits to try and appease some prominent upset members indicates some movement on not having to treat all schools the same, which could be key for Notre Dame.
Beyond that, there’s the general uncertainty about what’s going to happen with the rest of the Power 5. There are questions on if those ACC moves will be enough to prevent defections there, and there are questions on if the remaining 10 members of the Pac-12 will actually hang together or not (which will likely depend heavily on just what they do get in their long–anticipated media deal). There are also questions on just how aggressive the Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC are going to be with further expansion, and on how changes there may impact the soon-to-be-expanded playoff.
At the moment, Notre Dame independence seems like it can still work, especially if they’re able to get another TV deal that gives them what they want. But that could be a rather different conversation if the trend towards the Big Ten and SEC as superconferences continues. So Swarbrick and Bevacqua will have lots to keep an eye on during this transition period. And it will be interesting to see if Bevacqua winds up pursuing a different strategy when he does actually take over as AD.