Former Warner Media (news and sports) chair Jeff Zucker has a new investment. Zucker now runs private equity fund International Media Investments, a fund backed by the United Arab Emirates, and recently teamed with XFL part owner RedBird Capital Partners for a RedBird IMI fund. Back in August, Axios’ Sara Fischer and Dan Primack reported that Zucker and RedBird IMI were looking into an investment in Front Office Sports, and Fischer reported Monday that they’ve now agreed to buy a stake in that company:
— Sara Fischer (@sarafischer) October 2, 2023
Here’s more from Fischer’s piece:
Former CNN boss Jeff Zucker has agreed to acquire a stake in newsletter startup Front Office Sports, and will serve as co-chair of the newsletter startup’s board.
…Zucker now has a brand and platform that he can use to develop and license new documentaries and video projects, with a source saying FOS will seek to hire new on-camera talent.
…The deal, which remains unannounced, marks a new chapter for FOS, which CEO Adam White launched while in college in 2014.
In 2022 it raised $5 million from Crain Communications at around a $25 million valuation.
Most FOS products are free, but it did begin selling paid subscriptions in 2021.
…The big picture: RedBird IMI last month said it would launch a new non-fiction content studio [EverWonder Studio] led by former Time president Ian Orefice.
A source tells Axios that FOS will fall under the studio’s umbrella.
As per Lucas Shaw of Bloomberg, this is a minority stake. Here’s more from a release on the deal, which also notes that previous investor SC Holdings will continue to hold a minority stake (and their managing partner, Jason Stein, will co-chair the FOS board with Zucker):
Front Office Sports (FOS), the leading multi-platform media and news organization covering the business of sports, announced today a strategic investment from RedBird IMI, a joint venture between RedBird Capital Partners and International Media Investments focused on building high-growth companies in media, entertainment and sports.
…”The business of sports has become ubiquitous in recent years, permeating across all corners of culture. It now commands mainstream attention and is part of even the most casual fan’s daily content consumption,” said Adam White, Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. “The foundation of our company was built on a deep understanding and connection to this shift, and has long informed our editorial strategy and product development. As we enter this next stage of expansion, we are incredibly excited to partner with Jeff Zucker, one of the media industry’s greatest minds.”
…“The team at Front Office Sports has built an impressive platform for sports business journalism, and I’m excited to help it grow in the years ahead,” said Jeff Zucker. “Audiences are more interested than ever in the business of sports, and this investment will allow Front Office Sports to create even more compelling news content that draws people in.”
…“Front Office Sports has become a clear leader and important voice in the growing sports media landscape. We were an early believer in their approach to covering sports in a way that would influence business leaders and inform fans,” said Jason Stein, founder of SC Holdings. “This credibility with highly coveted audiences will continue to separate them as they expand the business.”
The release itself isn’t too specific on just what FOS has planned, but it’s interesting to hear particular mentions of documentaries and video projects in Fischer’s report. FOS has done some of that, but much of their focus to date has been on written content (with the website and newsletters) and podcasts. But sports documentaries are certainly a growing area of importance, and there are more potential platforms than ever for them with the rise of paid streaming services. And they could be a good way to expand the FOS brand.
And it’s notable that Fischer reports FOS will be looking to staff up on that side. Meanwhile, Zucker and RedBird IMI have already shown interest in that space, launching that aforementioned EverWonder Studio last month, and they already have a notable Chris Evert/Martina Navratilova doc in the works with Meadowlark Media (which Zucker, Orefice, John Skipper and others are all executive producers on).
Zucker has long been known for his interest in sports. His first media job was as an intern for NBC around the 1988 Summer Olympics, and while much of his subsequent decades of work there (through 2010) was outside the particular sports realm (with Today and then with overall leadership of NBC Entertainment), he wound up overseeing sports when he became NBCUniversal Television Group CEO in December 2005 and then president and CEO of all of NBCUniversal in February 2007.
Zucker left NBC in 2010, then produced Katie Couric’s daytime show, and then became president of CNN Worldwide in January 2013 (where there were plenty of discussions on his First Take-inspired approach to some of the network’s content). He was even discussed as a candidate for ESPN president in 2018 after Skipper’s exit, but denied interest there. He then added leadership of all of WarnerMedia News and Sports (including the then-Turner Sports/now WBD Sports, Bleacher Report, and the AT&T SportsNet regional sports networks) in a March 2019 reorganization that saw long-time Turner figure David Levy exit, and started making notable comments on even specific league policies with NBA load management in particular.
Zucker resigned from WarnerMedia in February 2022 after reports on how he didn’t disclose a relationship with a subordinate. But he took over RedBird IMI leadership in December. And now he has a new sports property to run there with FOS, with this closing the loop on the August reports he was looking to invest. We’ll see how that investment goes for him, and just what FOS winds up doing in the video realm.