The English Premier League, soccer’s leading domestic competition, has been forced to reopen its search for a new leader after announcing that Susanna Dinnage, who was picked to replace the longtime executive chairman Richard Scudamore, had a change of heart.
Dinnage, a senior executive at Discovery Communications, would have instantly become one of the most powerful women in sports had she taken charge of the Premier League. In a short statement released late Sunday, the league gave no reason for Dinnage’s decision.
A nominations committee that had spent months looking for a successor to replace Scudamore, who is leaving at the end of the year after almost two decades, has reconvened and is already talking to candidates, the league said.
The sudden messiness surrounding the search is embarrassing for an organization that prides itself on getting its business done with little fuss. Scudamore and a small team of close advisers built a business that left major rivals in the shade by leveraging English soccer’s global popularity to build a brand known the world over and to generate television revenues — now worth more than 3 billion pounds ($3.8 billion) per season — that have far outstripped rival leagues.
Still, planning for the future hasn’t been easy. Even before Dinnage announced she was reversing course, the league faced a public and media backlash after executives from its 20 clubs agreed to give Scudamore 5 million pounds ($6.4 million) as part of an exit package.
Dinnage, who recently led Animal Planet, one of Discovery’s biggest channels, was a surprising pick when her appointment was announced in November. She had no previous experience in the sports industry but had been described by Bruce Buck, the Chelsea chairman who led the league’s nominations committee, as the “outstanding choice, given her track record in managing complex businesses through transformation and digital disruption.”
Dinnage would have become a rare female voice in men’s soccer, where women in leadership positions continue to be the exception rather than the rule. Instead, Dinnage is expected to stay with Discovery.
The only other female leader of a top-tier soccer league is Nathalie Boy de la Tour, the president of France’s Ligue de Football Professionnel. FIFA, soccer’s governing body, appointed the former United Nations official Fatma Samoura as its secretary general in 2016.
Whoever does take the E.P.L. job in the end will be confronting the challenge of maintaining the league’s collectivist approach at a time when the biggest and most popular soccer teams in Europe are looking to grab a greater slice of the revenues. In November, for example, leaked documents obtained by a consortium of European news media groups showed that some of the continent’s top clubs, including Premier League giants like Manchester United and Liverpool, had been involved in discussions about a possible breakaway competition.
Scudamore’s successor will also have to find ways of of keeping the Premier League prospering if the country follows through on plans to exit the European Union. British soccer leaders, like those from many other industries, have expressed great concern about the impact of Brexit on their operations, with particular wories about player recruitment and television rights sales.
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