Thursday December 7, 2023
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Sources: John Skipper, Dan Le Batard Seek $10-15M In Financing

  • Skipper wants freedom for “creator-centric” company.
  • Wish list now includes ESPN’s Pablo Torre
John Skipper
Mark Lennihan/Associated Press
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John Skipper and Dan Le Batard are seeking $10–$15 million in initial financing for their new venture Meadowlark Media, sources tell Front Office Sports. 

Rather than one primary backer, the duo prefer a number of investors. They desire creative and financial freedom for their “creative-centric” content factory for story-tellers.  

“Skipper would rather have 10 investors chipping in a million dollars apiece — than one investor giving him $10 million,” said a source.

Despite Skipper’s current role as Executive Chairman of DAZN, Meadowlark will not operate as part of the global sports streaming service, said sources. 

Instead, DAZN parent Access Industries will support Meadowlark while Skipper and Le Batard seek outside investors. DAZN could also invest in Meadowlark.

Some of the cash for Meadowlark will come from a pending deal for Le Batard’s radio show and podcast. Possible suitors for his shows include Spotify, SiriusXM and iHeartRadio, said sources.

Skipper and DAZN declined to comment beyond their formal announcement of Meadowlark on Jan. 19. 

But the new outlet won’t be a consumer company; instead, they envision an independent business-to-business outfit that will sell premium sports and entertainment content to third parties.

That content could range from TV, radio, and streaming sports shows to podcasts, scripted entertainment, reality programs and sports documentaries.

Meadowlark’s products could find destinations everywhere from sports TV giants like ESPN and NBC/Comcast to Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and HBO Max. 

With solid financing, Skipper and Le Batard can recruit A-list talent in front of and behind the camera.  

Jemele Hill previously confirmed to FOS that her former ESPN colleagues have approached her about collaborating. 

If Hill does join forces with Meadowlark, however, she would maintain her own media platforms and deals, which include a regular column in The Atlantic, the “Jemele Hill is Unbothered” podcast on Spotify and the “Cari & Jemele (Won’t) Stick to Sports” talk show on Vice TV with ex-ESPN colleague Cari Champion.

“Both John and Dan know I have such a deep level of respect for them. So me working with them again always felt like it was inevitable,” Hill previously told FOS

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When it comes to talent, Meadowlark Media will be “flexible,” said sources. 

Some story-tellers like Hill, who have their own existing media platforms, would not be full-time. 

Others like Le Batard, on-air partner Jon “Stugotz” Weiner and their irreverent team from “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz” will call Meadowlark their new home. 

Among the preferred talent on their wish list: Pablo Torre and Bomani Jones, who are still under contract at ESPN; and Kate Fagan, the former ESPN writer and host.

Jones and Torre would be a natural fit. They’re close friends with Le Batard, having appeared frequently on his “Highly Questionable” TV show. 

ESPN canceled their “High Noon” talk show in 2020.  

There are also plenty of ex-ESPN staff who previously worked for Skipper: Jason Whitlock — the first editor-in-chief of ESPN’s The Undefeated who recently left Outkick — Mike Golic Sr., Trey Wingo, Josina Anderson and Michelle Beadle. 

Said a source: “Skipper wants to get his old ESPN band back together. These are the people who Skipper loves — and who love Skipper.”

Meadowlark would also have its pick of the thousands of talented industry reporters, writers, producers and directors cut loose by COVID-19-induced layoffs and cutbacks. 

Still, Skipper and Le Batard will have to battle some economic headwinds. 

The duo are launching in the teeth of a sports media recession. The maverick Le Batard is widely admired for his candor and unique perspective. 

But it remains to be seen how many investors are willing to gamble on him outside the confines of ESPN.

Sports giants like NBC, Fox and ESPN are cutting back, not expanding, due to the financial losses incurred during last year’s months-long sports shutdown. 

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On Jan. 22, NBC Sports Group announced it would shut down its NBCSN cable network by the end of the year and move the NHL and other programming to USA Network and Peacock.

But going independent has proved to be extremely lucrative for trailblazers like Bill Simmons at The Ringer, Joe Rogan at Spotify and David Portnoy at Barstool Sports. 

If it takes off, their hope is that Meadowlark Media will one day command close to the $200 million purchase price that Simmons got for The Ringer.

There’s also the question of Skipper’s tenure at DAZN. 

During a “South Beach Sessions” podcast with Le Batard, Skipper said he’ll transition to non-operating Chairman of DAZN before focusing fully on Meadowlark. 

Le Batard already referred to Skipper as “Chief Executive Officer” of Meadowlark.

Despite the challenges, Skipper believes in the growing global need for best-in-class sports content. Meadowlark wants to become known as the “standard-bearer” and supplier of choice.  

“Wherever great stories are, we want to tell them in a multitude of genres,” Skipper said on the podcast. 

“We are not, however, going to publish them on a platform that’s called Meadowlark. What we want to do is to sell them to third parties.”

As for the company moniker, Meadowlark represents the “songbird who greets the new dawn,” according to Skipper. 

It’s a typically literary flourish from the 65-year old sports executive, who earned a degree in English & Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina before launching his career at Rolling Stone and ESPN.

The 52-year old Le Batard said he resisted working for Disney-owned ESPN for years. He relented due to his respect for Skipper, whom he called a “visionary.”

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