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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Oscar-Winning Deirdre Fenton On DAZN’s Sports Doc Strategy

O.J.: Made in America earned ESPN Films its first Academy Award in 2017. Now Deirdre Fenton, one of the producers behind that Oscar-winning film, is joining DAZN to run the streaming service’s sports documentary business.

Fenton was recently named director of original programming production by Jamie Horowitz, DAZN’s executive vice president of content for North America.

With former ESPNers John Skipper and Horowitz running the show in North America, DAZN has entered the highly competitive sports documentary business in a big way. This year the streaming service rolled out a docu-series dubbed 40 DAYS, chronicling the grueling training regimens boxers undergo before fight night. 

Some of the biggest names in sports, music and Hollywood have served as executive producers of the different documentaries thus far, including NBA superstar LeBron James, actor Mark Wahlberg, rapper Meek Mill and director Peter Berg. Take a look at the players involved in 40 DAYS docs so far this year:

– THE FIGHT: Canelo Alvarez vs. vs. Daniel Jacobs; Executive Producers: LeBron James, Maverick Carter; Production Company: Uninterrupted.

– THE FIGHT: Anthony  Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz Jr.; Executive Producer: Meek Mill; Production Company: Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.

– THE FIGHT: Gennady Golovkin vs. Steve Rolls; Executive Producers: Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg; Production Companies: Unrealistic Ideas, Film 45.

Horowitz views Fenton’s hire as the next step in building the type of thriving documentary franchise at DAZN Originals that ESPN has with its award-winning 30 for 30.

“Deirdre is one of this industry’s most accomplished producers. She was on the ground floor of 30 for 30 – and we are grateful to have her driving the vision of DAZN Originals,” said Horowitz.

Front Office Sports interviewed Fenton about her move to DAZN. And what she has planned next. 

Front Office Sports: So what kind of sports docs do you want to produce at DAZN?

Deirdre Fenton: I hope to find original and diverse voices to help tell compelling sports stories that expand our audience. At ESPN, I was fortunate to work with very talented directors and producers, but great ideas can come from anywhere and it’s my goal to make sure we are seeking out the new voices, and continuing to innovate, in the content space. I am especially excited to work at a company with such a global platform – creating documentaries that bring value to DAZN in nine different countries is challenging and exciting.

READ MORE: Could NHL Be Next Big Deal for DAZN?

FOS: How did your deal come about?

DF: I ran into Jamie (Horowitz) on the street in New York City. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, but he was the same as I remembered: honest, a great listener, and hilarious. He asked me about my life and career and quickly told me there might be a perfect match for me at DAZN and he would be excited to have me join the team. 

FOS: What did you and Jamie work on together at ESPN?

DF: I worked with Jamie in the same department at ESPN – it was initially called ESPN Original Entertainment. Although he worked mostly in studio show development and live production, whereas I was a part of 30 for 30, I got a fair amount of exposure to his projects. I specifically remember our department around the launch of SportsNation (with Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle in 2009). That show was so different than anything else on TV at the time. 

Jamie and Kevin (Wildes) and (Dave) Jacoby were open to any crazy idea. I remember sitting in show development meetings with my friend Katie Gorman and we would watch PAs and graphics producers pitching segment ideas that involved parachutes, puppies, and all kinds of other insane things. Jamie would listen to each pitch, ask all sorts of questions to better understand the idea and then write them on a whiteboard for consideration. It was around that time that I realized how fun it is to work on a team with Jamie.

FOS: As a producer, you helped ESPN win its first Oscar for the O.J. doc. Thoughts?

DF: You can never be scared to take risks. At the beginning of 30 for 30, we knew it was a risk for ESPN to even greenlight the (nearly eight-hour) project. (Former ESPN president turned DAZN executive chairman) John Skipper is the person who supported us. Working for him again is a very exciting aspect of my new role because I know he values the type of content I can create. Early on, Skipper empowered Bill (Simmons) and Connor (Schell) to build 30 for 30 and that is what allowed us to make O.J.

Regarding O.J: Made in America, I think it was really ambitious to produce one of the longest documentaries ever made about a topic that has been discussed in depth for over 30 years. But the payoff was being able to help innovate the genre and contribute to the discussion of race and politics in America.

READ MORE: If ESPN Cuts Ties With Dan Le Batard, Is DAZN Waiting In The Wings?

FOS: Everybody from sports media companies to athletes like LeBron and Julian Edelman are creating sports docs now. Where do you sports docs going next?

DF: They’re already global, but I think people will consume them in even more ways – podcasts, documentary series and short-form digital pieces. Sports elicit a unique passion from people and I don’t think that will ever go away.

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