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South by Southwest Legal Chief Stepping Down After Partial Sale

Aug. 17, 2021, 9:31 AM

SXSW LLC, the company behind the annual media conference and music festival known as South by Southwest, is in the market for a general counsel after its longtime legal chief announced plans to step down.

Heather VanDyke, hired in 2015 as general counsel for the Austin, Texas-based gathering, disclosed her departure in a post on her LinkedIn profile this month.

“After a lot of agonizing, I’ve made the incredibly tough decision to step down from my role as GC of SXSW so I can focus on trying to start a family, which hasn’t come easily for me,” wrote VanDyke, a former lawyer at Chicago’s Leavens, Strand & Glover. “SXSW has been an amazing ride and is such a phenomenal organization.”

SXSW, usually held in mid-March, in recent years has become an increasingly popular forum for those in the entertainment and technology sectors. The next one is scheduled for March 11-20, 2022.

SXSW was also one of the first major live events canceled in the U.S. last year as Covid-19 began to spread throughout the country. Bloomberg News reported that the reduction in visitors to Austin hurt the economy of the city, which in recent years has become a local hub for many large law firms.

A SXSW spokesperson confirmed to Bloomberg Law that VanDyke will scale back her role at the company but remain an employee in a legal advisory capacity through March 2022. SXSW is “finalizing the interview process with several extremely talented and qualified candidates” to succeed her, the spokesperson said.

VanDyke included in her LinkedIn post a link to a description of the job posting for her position. VanDyke wrote that she plans to “stay onboard behind the scenes for a few hours a day” until next year’s event to transition her legal chief role at SXSW, as well as to help train her eventual replacement.

VanDyke didn’t respond to a request for comment about her pending departure, which comes after SXSW agreed in April to sell a 50% stake to P-MRC Holdings LLC. The latter is an affiliate of Penske Media Corp., a media company that owns publications like Billboard, Deadline Hollywood, Rolling Stone, and Variety.

SXSW said VanDyke led an outside legal team advising the company on that transaction. Also assisting were partner Cliff Ernst and associate Sophia Makris of Austin’s McGinnis Lochridge and former McGinnis Lochridge partner Martha Todd, who recently joined Kirkland & Ellis’ new office in Austin. Steven Espenshade, a trademark partner at Pirkey Barber in Austin, also represented SXSW on the matter.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the deal with Penske was designed to provide capital to SXSW and allow it to continue operations and offset the financial hit it took after being forced to cancel its in-person festivities during the past two years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. SXSW continued to host virtual events.

Media Moves Mashup

VanDyke, who has been an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law, isn’t the only in-house media industry lawyer making moves.

Cox Media Group Inc., an Atlanta-based local television broadcaster owned since 2019 by Cox Enterprises Inc. and private equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC, announced Aug. 2 its hire of Perkins Coie partner Eric Greenberg as general counsel and corporate secretary. Greenberg, who worked out of New York and Washington, will as of Aug. 16 succeed Cox Media legal chief Heidy Eddy-Dorn.

Univision Holdings Inc., whose former legal chief Jonathan Schwartz stepped down in January, announced July 19 its hire of Pilar Ramos as general counsel and corporate secretary for the Spanish language television network. Ramos has spent the past 18 years in-house at MasterCard Inc., where she was most recently the financial services company’s North America general counsel.

Comcast Corp. announced July 13 its hire of former Obama administration adviser and Covington & Burling senior of counsel Broderick Johnson to be its executive vice president of public policy and digital equity. Johnson, who left Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner two years ago to join Covington’s Washington office, will succeed Rebecca Arbogast as leader of the cable giant’s global public policy group.

Comcast, whose legal chief Thomas Reid took home more than $9 million in total pay last year, has also recently hired Reed Smith associate Thomas Reilly and Blank Rome associate Courtney Presswood as counsel in its headquarters in Philadelphia.

Barstool Sports Inc. brought on a new head of business and legal affairs earlier this year in Paul Anderson, who joined the New York-based digital media company after more than a half-dozen years in-house at Forbes Media LLC, where he was an associate general counsel for intellectual property and commercial counsel.

Neither Anderson nor Barstool responded to requests for comment about his role at Barstool, which has had some notable legal entanglements within the past year. Penn National Gaming Inc. paid $163 million to buy a 36% stake in Barstool in 2020.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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