ESPN PROGRAMMING CHIEF JOINS SIX FLAGS TAKEOVER BID

Mark Shapiro Hired as CEO of Red Zone Investment Firm

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Mark Shapiro, the head of programming at Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, is leaving the network to become CEO of Red Zone, LLC, a private-investment
Red Zone has announced its intention to purchase up to 34.9% of Six Flags' outstanding shares and wants Mark Shapiro named CEO of the amusement park company.
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company that has launched an effort to gain control of Six Flags Inc.

The announcement came yesterday as Red Zone submitted an Securities and Exchange Commission filing indicating it would seek additional seats on the Six Flags board and offer to purchase up to 34.9% of Six Flags' outstanding shares. Its conditions included removal of three board members and the election of three new ones, including Mr. Shapiro and Red Zone owner Dan Snyder, to be named CEO and chairman, respectively.

World's No. 2
Headquartered in Oklahoma, Six Flags is the world's No. 2 amusement-park operator, behind Walt Disney Co. It runs 32 parks in North America, employs more than 37,000 people and did just over $1 billion in 2004 sales, but has been struggling with declining attendance and poor financial performance.

Mr. Snyder, who is 40, is also the owner of the Washington Redskins and a former marketing executive whose firm, Snyder Communications, was sold to Havas in 2000 for $2.1 billion. Other changes Mr. Snyder proposes for Six Flags include “redesigning advertising and marketing strategies” and “creating strategic sponsorship relationships with vendors and partnering with more modern brands.”

During the last two years, Six Flags has engaged in a massive advertising campaign featuring the oddball octogenarian "Mr. Six" character. The national campaign is the work of the Doner advertising agency of Southfield, Mich.

Doner ad agency
In the summer of 2003, Doner won the $100 million creative and media-services account with a mandate to create ads that would help reverse the amusement company's financial losses.

Mr. Six has been a hit on news and talk shows, has his own blogs and fast-selling merchandise. The campaign effort featuring him has ranked among the top 10 most recalled ads by Intermedia Advertising Group. Yet attendance at Six Flags dropped 4% in 2004, according to financial reports.

Mr. Snyder's investment company has been a vocal critic of the Six Flags amusement park operation since it bought a stake in the company a year ago.

Driving Force within ESPN
Mr. Shapiro, who is 35, has been with ESPN for the past dozen years and was a driving force behind the company’s fairly recent emphasis on original, scripted programming, including series and TV movies. The strategy was meant to help expand the cable company's demographic reach but also proved to be the network’s saving grace in the wake of the NHL’s cancelled 2004-2005 season.

Mr. Shapiro also helped negotiate ESPN’s recent gridiron coup, as it won the rights to air “Monday Night Football,” the sports-prime-time “appointment viewing” package. The ESPN cable deal for “Monday Night Football, which begins in 2006, is valued at $8.9 billion over eight years.

Most recently, Mr. Shapiro has been involved in ESPN’s negotiations with the NHL. ESPN let its $60 million annual NHL carriage extension lapse last spring; last week the league announced a carriage agreement with Comcast Corporation’s OLN, or Outdoor Life Network, valued at $70 million annually. ESPN had until 5 p.m. yesterday to match the OLN offer but did not.

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