Sports has taken Peter Hutton around the globe. As a young journalist he helped start IMG’s world soccer show Futbol Mundial before settling in India as a pioneer of Indian sports media. In eight years in Dubai he was part of the launch team of Ten Sports before overseeing its successful sale. He went to Singapore as Managing Director of Fox Sports and then spent four years living in France as CEO of Discovery-owned Eurosport. Today he lives in California and runs the Facebook sports team worldwide.
Media → Technology
As the son of a sports-obsessed travelling sales professional with a patch that covered much of Great Britain, Peter Hutton’s career path was defined at an early stage. “Every meeting seemed to coincide with the sporting event in the same city. I normally got dragged along for the ride,” he says. “I had sport in my blood from a really early age.”
While still a schoolboy he was compiling match reports for the local station, Radio Leeds. As he completed his finals at the University of Cambridge he had already begun his first full-time job as a journalist. He switched formats from radio to television to take a London-based job with fledgling satellite broadcaster BSB when he was just 22. When that operation crashed he looked even further afield.
Soon he was crossing the world working as a reporter and producer for IMG’s football show Futbol Mundial. “Largely homeless, usually on a plane with a book,” is how his LinkedIn profile describes his constant globe-trotting lifestyle of the time. He also “did some brilliant things in brilliant places”, he tells SRI. He filmed the football star Roger Milla at his home in Cameroon and covered the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
“Those skill sets are changing, and therefore you need to widen the talent pool that you’re looking in”
Hutton’s career changed tracks when he decided to settle down. “I said: ‘Look, 52 weeks on the road is a long time. I want to go and live somewhere abroad.” As Head of Production for IMG in India and then Asia, Hutton grew a scratch operation, producing local cricket coverage, into a business turning over “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
Humbly, he links his success to the coincidence of his arrival with the revolution of India’s pay-TV sector. He is also proud of the business’s lasting impact on Indian media and entertainment. “I was really lucky in that I’d hired a lot of young, Indian staff for whom it was normally their first TV job, and those guys have basically gone on to run most of the Indian sports TV world since.” Hutton attended the wedding of Indian cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar in 1995 among a range of unique experiences in the country.
His work in India “changed the direction of my career” as the sports world took note. He headed to Dubai as VP for Taj Television, producing the Ten Sports channel aimed at the Indian sub-continent. He worked with “a very small, tightly-knit group of people”, some of whom had followed him from India. They were known as the ‘Dirty Dozen’.
The success in Dubai further expanded his international profile. He launched a football channel out of Singapore and cricket channel aimed at North America. “It fitted in with the growth and economic advantages of being in Dubai at that time, which allowed us to then launch other channels to other markets, and spread my influence a little bit beyond just the Indian sub-continent and work on a wider footprint.”
“You’ve got to be able to champion the brand, and when you talk about it, talk about it with genuine passion”
Senior sports broadcasting roles including being Managing Director of ESPN-Star in Singapore and then CEO of Eurosport in France, have led him to Silicon Valley and the intersection of sports with the world’s biggest social network, as Director, Sports Partnerships, for Facebook.
His work at the social giant involves working with sports as they try to position themselves “at the top of the funnel of audience attention”, he says. “What I love about Facebook is the continual re-invention through the range of offerings and experiences to distinct communities, and I think this is hugely relevant to sport as conversational commerce through messaging apps develops, as AR and VR grows in importance, [and] as consumption of streams becomes the norm.”
Hutton’s conversations with sports focus on four “pillars” of business, he says, “from audience development, to the monetisation of video, to commerce and conversion to paid properties on and off the platform and to branded content”.
He has been impressed by the way Facebook ensures it recruits from diverse talent pools and sectors. “One of the great things about Facebook is that the hiring process is very different to most organisations, in that there are a lot of different people involved in the process, and there’s an encouragement that you go through multiple interviews with multiple people with multiple backgrounds. That basically helps open up a lot of those other doors. I think both in terms of what industry the person comes from, and also the cultural and experience of that person.”
He thinks sports themselves will need to be similarly open-minded if they are to cope with the impact on their businesses of changing technologies. “The old ways of funding the sports industry have been so inexorably based on pay TV growth that, as a result, different ways of funding are going to be part of the future. Therefore, you need different skill sets. I think those skill sets are changing, and therefore you need to widen the talent pool that you’re looking in.”
With his breadth of experience, Hutton has inevitably been targeted for roles at major sports bodies. He says he’s very happy at Facebook but he would only consider working for a sport that he had a personal obsession for. “You’ve got to be able to champion the brand, and when you talk about it, talk about it with genuine passion. If you can’t do that then there’s no point taking on the role.”
One of the great attractions of running a sports business is “the adrenaline rush of dealing with problems on a day-to-day basis”. But, as he refers back to those pivotal times in India, he also takes great satisfaction in helping your colleagues to realise their potential. “We gave them chances and some of them have gone on to have stellar careers across the world,” he says.
“That sense of being able to help people on the journey is one of the best things about being a CEO.”