Kevin Mayer, the erstwhile CEO of TikTok and former longtime Disney executive, is in advanced discussions to join private equity firm RedBird Capital Partners.

While at Disney, Mayer was known as the dealmaker behind its Pixar and Marvel acquisitions and was also the head of streaming services Disney+ and ESPN+. He joined TikTok in May only to resign in August after the Trump administration ordered the social media provider’s Chinese parent ByteDance to sell its US assets.

RedBird’s interest in Mayer underscores the firm’s growing ambitions in media, especially live sports. RedBird founder Gerald Cardinale recently launched a $575 million special-purpose acquisition company alongside Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics executive who is the subject of Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball.” The blank-check company intends to acquire a pro sports team.

New York-based RedBird also recently bought a stake in French soccer team Toulouse FC, and it was part of an investment group that purchased the YES Network from Disney last year.

Before Mr. Mayer’s interlude at TikTok, the short-form viral video app, Mr. Mayer was Disney’s top streaming executive, overseeing the successful rollout of Disney+ last year. But he spent most of his 20-plus years at Disney as a deals maven. Mr. Mayer engineered the company’s blockbuster purchases of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.

He also carried out Disney’s $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox assets, which brought Hulu and Hotstar, an overseas streaming service, under Disney control.

Mr. Mayer’s résumé suggests that RedBird’s aspirations in the media arena are more significant than previously realized. Mr. Cardinale’s firm (named for the songbird suggested by his last name) has mostly flown under the radar; early investments included Aethon United, a Texas natural gas producer, and TierPoint, a Missouri data center operator.

In February, however, RedBird unveiled an investment in Skydance Media, a fast-growing film, television and gaming studio founded by David Ellison, whose father is the Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison. (Oracle is now in the middle of a potential TikTok transaction intended to address the Trump administration’s concerns about the app’s ties to China.)

Mr. Cardinale’s firm also owns part of the YES network — a stake that links RedBird to Amazon’s streaming division. Last year, an investment group that included Amazon, Sinclair Broadcast Group, RedBird and Yankee Global Enterprises bought YES from Disney for an estimated $3.5 billion.

RedBird has also been increasingly active in sports.

Last month, RedBird bought the rowdy XFL football league in partnership with the actor Dwayne Johnson and his business partner, Dany Garcia. In July, RedBird purchased the Toulouse Football Club, a French soccer team. Also in July, RedBird joined with Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics executive, to start a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, dedicated to sports.

Also known as “blank check” companies, SPACs raise money without having a detailed business plan. They have become hot investment vehicles as investors look for opportunities created by the upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic.

RedBird’s sports SPAC raised $575 million, positioning it to pursue acquisitions (English soccer is seen as a potential hunting ground) worth $5 billion or more when teaming with other investors.

Mr. Mayer was a logical choice to succeed Robert A. Iger as Disney’s chief executive. But the company’s board of directors passed him over in February, instead promoting Bob Chapek, the lower-profile chairman of Disney’s theme parks and consumer products businesses. Eager to run his own show, Mr. Mayer jumped at the chance to serve as chief executive of TikTok, which exploded in popularity during the pandemic. He was also named chief operating officer of ByteDance, the Chinese conglomerate that owns the app.

TikTok faced deep distrust across the U.S. government because of its Chinese ownership. Mr. Mayer’s presence was supposed to help assuage those concerns. But TikTok unexpectedly became a geopolitical piñata amid worsening U.S.-China tensions. President Trump signed an executive order to block TikTok if ByteDance did not sell the app’s U.S. operations.

TikTok was shocked by the order, in part because it had been working behind the scenes to satisfy the White House by holding talks with investors and others to reduce its Chinese ownership.

Mr. Mayer resigned on Aug. 26. “I understand that the role that I signed up for — including running TikTok globally — will look very different as a result of the U.S. administration’s action to push for a sell-off of the U.S. business,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

Source: New York Times

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