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Wonder Women 2020: Rosalyn Durant

For Rosalyn Durant, everything changed with a summer internship. Two, actually.

Rosalyn Durant

Rosalyn Durant

She went to the University of South Carolina with dreams of becoming on-air talent. “I wanted to do what Oprah Winfrey did,” recalled Durant, who was active on local and school radio and television from 1996 through 1998. She had internships and shadowing opportunities and was a broadcast major. Then, thanks to the T. Howard Foundation, she did a summer internship at Turner in marketing and business relations. “That changed everything,” she said.

Seeing a new world, Durant realized she would really enjoy the business side of media more. So she added a marketing minor and, thanks again to some help from the T. Howard Foundation, landed an internship with ESPN in affiliate sales and marketing in the summer of 1998. That went well, too. So well that ESPN offered her a job in Connecticut as a coordinator in that department after she graduated.

More Than a Sports Fan

“I’m a big sports fan,” said Durant. “But I didn’t come to ESPN because I’m a big sports fan. I liked the business and the culture and wanted to be around the people. Sports was an added bonus.”

One thing about the culture that particularly struck Durant during her internship when she met leaders throughout the company “was there were people who looked like me. There were women and people of color at all levels and that was a sign I could be successful here, too,” she said.

That proved an understatement. Durant’s rise at ESPN was rapid and continuous. Within a year, she was a regional account executive. Two years later she was a senior account executive. Two promotions later, in 2005, she was senior director, national accounts. Then it was time, she decided, to move on — not out of ESPN but into a new area. In 2006, she became a senior director of programming.

“I’ve often described my career as a collection of experiences,” she said. “I like new challenges and I loved understanding the different angles to ESPN because it allows me to better understand the industry.”

Durant played a significant role in the 2007 contract extension with the NBA (which included ESPN’s most-comprehensive digital rights sports league package at that time). She became VP of programming and acquisitions in that year. Later, she became VP of college sports programming and acquisitions, overseeing college sports plus high school sports and the management of college-sports-focused ESPNU.

“[Former ESPN president] George Bodenheimer talked about the importance of always being a student and that stuck with me,” said Durant, who describes herself as someone who won't be outworked. “I always want to know more, to roll up my sleeves and learn. And I don’t feel I have to have to have all the answers and I’m comfortable admitting what I don’t know.”

In 2015, she became senior VP, college networks. ESPNU and SEC Network have experienced dramatic increases, with both networks fully distributed with long-term carriage agreements at the top 10 distributors under her leadership. Last year, she oversaw the successful launch of ACC Network.

Her success doesn’t just stem from her desire to keep learning but also from her natural sense of leadership. “She provides guidance and direction but also gave me the space to grow,” said Stacie McCollum, recently named VP of programming and acquisitions, dealing with the ACC and Longhorn networks. “She is an energy giver. She exudes positivity, but in a way that’s organic and natural and it makes you want to follow her.

“She is a leader of people but also a tremendous business leader and that combination is not something you always see,” McCollum said.

Stephanie Druley, executive VP of event and studio production, agreed, saying Durant’s warm and welcoming personality “is one of her superpowers. She is able to make people feel comfortable and is great at motivating her team and pushing productions. But she is also very strategic and asks smart questions and is always thinking about what’s next.”

What's next for Durant is another move — this time out of ESPN. But while she is heading from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Orlando, Florida, for the new gig this month, she is staying within the corporate family. Her new role is senior VP of operations, Disney Springs, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Water Parks for the Walt Disney World Resort.

“I'm the first to preach the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone so I have to make sure I'm walking the walk,” she said.

Supporting T. Howard

Durant will continue giving back in ways no matter where she works. She is on the executive committee for the board of directors of the T. Howard Foundation, dedicated to increasing diversity in the multimedia and entertainment industry. “I’m a product of T. Howard through those internships and I believe in the mission, so I have a responsibility to pay it forward,” she said. She learned from many mentors at ESPN and is determined to do the same for the generations behind her.

“It’s important to me to share my learning, to make the people around me better. That’s part of leadership,” she said.

While there has been a lot of progress for women and people of color at ESPN and in the industry at large, there remains much work to be done, she said.

“It’s a journey. And I don’t know if you ever arrive,” Durant said.

Career Highlights: Rose up the ranks at ESPN for 20 years.

Played a significant role in the 2007 contract extension with the NBA.

Oversaw the 2019 launch of the ACC Network.

Quotable: “I'm the first to preach the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone so I have to make sure I'm walking the walk.”

Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.