Rugby Union - 07 Mar 2013 - By Martin Ross
Murray Barnett has left a leading position in Europe at ESPN, the Walt Disney-owned sports broadcaster, to become the head of commercial, broadcast and marketing for the International Rugby Board, rugby union's international governing body, and Rugby World Cup Limited, its wholly-owned subsidiary.
Barnett was named in the role today and will take up the position on April 15.
The IRB said that the 42-year-old Barnett will be "responsible for driving forward and delivering the IRB’s broadcast, marketing and digital media strategies as the sport seeks to maximise its popularity and commercial appeal in established, new and emerging markets, while driving forward the rugby brand, spearheaded by the flagship Rugby World Cup."
It was recently announced that Huw Morgan, the IRB’s long-standing commercial director, would step down at the end of this month to "explore new challenges."
The next Rugby World Cup will take place in England in 2015.
Barnett leaves his role at ESPN as vice president of sports channels and syndication for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, a position he was promoted to in 2008, having originally joined ESPN International as the broadcaster’s international arm opened its European sales office in London in 2001.
His move to the IRB comes after BT, the UK telecoms giant, recently agreed a deal to acquire the UK and Ireland television channels business of ESPN.
Under the terms of the deal, BT will continue to broadcast at least one ESPN-branded channel, but the ESPN Classic channel, which shows top archive sports footage, is not part of the BT agreement and is expected to be wound down throughout the EMEA region, while ESPN America, which shows US college basketball and American football plus motor racing’s Nascar, is expected to cease transmission outside the UK and Ireland in the rest of the EMEA region.
Among Barnett’s responsibilities at ESPN were maximising revenue and distribution of ESPN channels and content, including ESPN Classic and ESPN America, as well as syndication and representation of sports programmes and sub-licensing of sports rights.
Brett Gosper, the IRB chief executive, said: "Murray’s blend of vast experience and strong knowledge of the sporting digital media, broadcast sales, marketing and commercial landscape is perfectly suited to the IRB’s mission to reach out to an even greater numbers of players, fans, commercial partners and broadcasters in more markets worldwide.
"Murray joins a dynamic and strong management team at an exciting time for the IRB and for the game with global participation at an all-time high, a strong commercial profile, the Rugby World Cup brand going from strength to strength and the sport returning to the Olympic Games in 2016."
Barnett commented: "I am delighted to be joining the IRB at such a seminal time for the sport. I look forward to working within a strong management team, in collaboration with rugby’s major stakeholders, and to using the experience gained through my involvement with the sports broadcast, commercial, marketing and digital sectors to add further growth and momentum to rugby as one of the world’s most exciting and commercially attractive sports."
Before joining ESPN, Barnett worked for ISL Television (1999-2001), NBA Europe (1997-1999), NetHold Central Europe (1996-1997) and Orbit Television and Radio Network (1994-1996).