ESPN’s top marketing exec Laura Gentile is leaving the sports giant after a 20-year career to launch her own business.
As part of the move, Tina Thornton is being promoted to executive vp, creative studio and marketing, in the latest management shuffle at ESPN after it became its own division within Disney. ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro, in an internal memo obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, said Gentile’s departure to open her own shop was “bittersweet news.”
“Laura’s strategic leadership and creativity have been vital to growing the ESPN brand, ESPN’s relationship with fans and our audience expansion efforts,” Pitaro added of Gentile. Her responsibilities at ESPN included developing and overseeing brand marketing across media and expanding ESPN’s reach to new audiences and sports fans.
In March, Pitaro restructured his senior leadership team, with Thornton taking on additional duties to lead content production and operations, while longtime marketing head Gentile took on more duties at ESPN.
“To work at a truly special place for 20+ years with people who are deeply passionate is a gift. Every major life change for me has happened at ESPN. The marketing team is now deep and experienced, and it’s the right time for me to do new things, pursue fresh challenges and start my own shop. I’m incredibly energized and eternally grateful,” Gentile said as part of the internal memo.
A full copy of the internal memo from ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro follows:
I am reaching out with bittersweet news – Laura Gentile, EVP, ESPN Marketing, has made a thoughtful and personal decision to leave ESPN after a 20-year career to start her own business. Laura’s strategic leadership and creativity have been vital to growing the ESPN brand, ESPN’s relationship with fans and our audience expansion efforts. In addition to her work with Marketing, Laura’s role championing and empowering women in sports cannot be overstated – she has made an enormous difference in the industry. A passionate athlete and leader, Laura managed the creation of espnW from an idea to a fully developed brand, built the espnW Summit into a powerhouse event, and led ESPN’s partnership with the State Department to create The Global Sports Mentoring Program, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary last year.
“It is hard to express how much I love ESPN. From a little girl playing hooky to watch the NFL Draft to building espnW, this ride has been a dream come true. To work at a truly special place for 20+ years with people who are deeply passionate is a gift. Every major life change for me has happened at ESPN. The Marketing team is now deep and experienced, and it’s the right time for me to do new things, pursue fresh challenges and start my own shop. I’m incredibly energized and eternally grateful.” Under Laura’s leadership, the Marketing team captured the heart of sports fans with ‘There’s No Place Like Sports,’ returned ‘This is SportsCenter’ to the center of sports conversation, launched ‘One App, One Tap,’ and produced industry-leading advertising and promotion in support of our NFL, NBA, NHL, Formula 1, and MLB content. ESPN marketing is not just marketing – it’s content in the eyes of sports fans, and this group has consistently delivered impactful storytelling.
Laura will be missed, but we are thrilled to hand the reins to Tina Thornton, who is being promoted to EVP, Creative Studio and Marketing. Tina is an outstanding leader and ESPN culture carrier who has excelled in several high-profile positions, including her most recent as Head of Content Operations and Creative Surround. She is a people-focused leader, known for her deep background in Content, strategic thinking, and commitment to supporting career advancement and opportunity. In her 30-year career at ESPN, Tina has touched almost all areas of the Content organization and has held creative leadership positions that will help her in her new role, including Content Synergy, Content Integration and the formation and advancement of ESPN’s Creative Studio – an accomplished collection of creative storytelling units.
Tina worked as a Coordinating Producer on a variety of sports including the Women’s Tournament and Final Four for 16 years. She’s also led production operations, management operations, production management and directing, served as an advisor to me and my direct reports, and empowered the newest generation of employees with her work overseeing the ESPN Next program. In addition to Marketing, Tina will continue to oversee Creative Studio, led by Carrie Brzezinski-Hsu, and ESPN Citizenship, led by Kevin Martinez. Reporting to Tina in marketing are Seth Ader, Ryan Campbell, Rachel Epstein, Curtis Friends, Brian Iglesias, Lynn Kadri, Inna Kern, and Chris McClure.
Production Operations, ESPN Directing, ESPN Next, Management Operations (including Business Optimization), and Production Management will all move to our Content area. Later today, Burke Magnus, President, Content, will share more about his new structure and who will lead these important groups. Laura will stay with ESPN to aid in the transition through the beginning of October. Please join me in thanking her for her dedication to ESPN and in wishing Tina success in her new role.
Tina will continue to report to me, along with my direct reports Chara-Lynn Aguiar, Rosalyn Durant, Burke Magnus, and Mark Walker. Judy Agay, Bryan Castellani, Nell DeVane, and Chris LaPlaca will continue to report to me and Corporate HR, Finance, Legal, and Communications, respectively, and—as mentioned previously—Aaron LaBerge, Technology, Justin Connolly, Platform Distribution, Rita Ferro, Ad Sales, and our international leads Luke Kang, President Asia Pacific, Jan Koeppen, President EMEA, Diego Lerner, President LATAM, and K Madhavan, President India, will continue to report to me, Dana Walden, and Alan Bergman.