A uniquely qualified executive with a vast knowledge of and passion for Syracuse University Athletics, John Wildhack ’80 was named Syracuse’s 11th Director of Athletics in July 2016. Wildhack, a veteran leader at ESPN, most recently served as the network’s executive vice president for programming and production. Wildhack was responsible for oversight of all ESPN and ABC game, event and studio production work for domestic and international television and radio networks, as well as programming acquisitions, rights holder relationship management and scheduling.
At Syracuse, he is responsible for leading the daily operations of a 20-sport athletics department with more than 550 student-athletes in an environment that coaches, administration and staff foster for student-athletes to maximize their performance in the classroom and on the playing field to prepare them for future success.
During his distinguished career at ESPN, Wildhack held a number of critical leadership roles and was responsible for a number of firsts at the network. Those firsts included producing ESPN’s first live regular-season college football game in September 1984 and its first live NFL game in August 1987.
As ESPN’s executive vice president for programming and production, Wildhack managed all league and conference relationships and negotiated all live sport television rights; renegotiated a nine-year deal with the National Basketball Association (NBA), extending the existing contract through 2023; renegotiated a new 20-year agreement with the Southeastern Conference that extended the existing media rights deal through 2034; helped secure long-term multiplatform agreements with the NBA, Major League Baseball, College Football Playoffs, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, U.S. Open Tennis, the Rose and Sugar Bowls, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the American Athletic Conference and the Mountain West Conference; and won more than 30 Emmy Awards. He was responsible for 50,000 hours of on-air content annually.
Wildhack served as ESPN’s executive vice president for programming and acquisitions from 2007 until 2012. While directing programming and acquisitions, he oversaw all rights negotiations and managing relationships with rights holders for all ESPN entities. These included ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPNU, ESPN International, ESPN Radio, ESPN.com, ESPN3, ESPN Mobile Properties, print and more. In 2009, he began leading strategic program planning for all the ESPN television networks, ESPN on ABC and ESPN’s digital platforms.
Wildhack’s managerial role at ESPN began in 1990 when he was named director, event productions. In 1991 he was promoted to vice president, remote production, a position he held through 1993 when he became senior vice president, remote production. In September 1994, he moved to the programming department as senior vice president, programming, and in 2005 he became senior vice president, programming acquisitions & strategy. Wildhack was directly involved in the renewal and expansion of many ESPN and ESPN2 programming agreements including NFL, MLB, NBA, the Bowl Championship Series, NCAA, tennis’ four Grand Slam events and a variety of major college conferences. His efforts were integral in the increase of live and original programming on ESPN and ESPN2. Under his direction, the evolution of ESPN2’s programming lineup included an extensive commitment to auto racing and college football and basketball, leading to ESPN2 becoming the fastest growing network of the 1990s.
Wildhack first joined ESPN as a production assistant in 1980. He served in a number of production positions prior to his move to the management track at the Worldwide Leader in Sports, including production assistant, associate producer, senior associate producer, producer, coordinating producer and director of event productions. Among the sports he worked on were college football, NCAA basketball, boxing, golf and auto racing. He served as coordinating producer of ESPN’s Sunday Night NFL and NFL Draft telecasts in 1988 and 1989 and produced NFL games for the network – the first NFL games on cable – from 1987-89.
A native of Buffalo, N.Y. and a 1980 alumnus of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications (Bachelor of Arts in Telecommunications), Wildhack joined ESPN in its first year of operation immediately following his graduation from Syracuse University. An active Syracuse alumnus, he sits on the Advisory Board for the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics and was an honoree at the “Newhouse at 40” Gala.