Tributes paid to World Rugby head of broadcast Chris Synnott

Chris Synnott
Chris Synnott

Tributes have been received from across the sports industry for Chris Synnott, World Rugby’s head of broadcast and media rights, following his recent passing at the age of 51.

Synnott has been described by his former colleagues and various industry figures as humble, energetic, a tough negotiator and deeply knowledgeable. He passed away at Willen Hospice in Milton Keynes on June 28.

Synnott bolstered World Rugby’s in-house rights sales team in late 2020 after being hired by then chief commercial officer Tom Hill. He joined from his role as head of broadcast and media rights sales at WRC Promoter, the commercial arm of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Before that, Synnott sold media rights at The Sportsman Media Group, the agency that aligned with Red Bull Media House to form the WRC Promoter joint venture. Having started his carer in sport, media and entertainment law at Michael Simkins LLP, he also spent three years at Team Marketing between 2007 and 2010.

World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin led the tributes to Synnott gathered by SportBusiness.

He said: “Everyone at World Rugby will remember Chris with great fondness. Chris will be hugely missed by those who had the pleasure of working with him within World Rugby and the wider rugby family, and also across the global media rights sector where he was hugely respected.

“As well as a fantastic colleague who played a significant role in World Rugby’s media rights strategy transformation, growing the sport’s global reach and increasing revenues, he was great fun to be with. Always full of energy, he maintained a sense of humour and perspective throughout his battle.

“I know that I speak on behalf of everyone at World Rugby when I say that Chris will be in our hearts as we continue to grow our sport and I would like to express our ongoing condolences to Chris’ family, friends and colleagues.”

Jona Siebel, managing director of WRC Promoter, praised Synnott as an “integral part of the WRC Promoter team as one of our first employees when we took over the promotion of the championship in 2013”.

“A sports fan first and foremost, it was easy for Chris to bring this passion across to his everyday work. We were saddened to learn of his untimely passing, and he leaves behind an unfillable void in the sports industry”, he continued.

Hill, who left World Rugby last year, said: “We worked closely together on Rugby World Cup 2023 media rights and Chris took control of the top RWC broadcast territories, selling and managing them in-house which in turn netted 90 per cent of the total broadcast revenues.

“Evidence of Chris’ ability and experience was when he secured one of the largest-ever TV deals for a RWC with TF1 for the French 2023 rights. Successful, not only because he was clever, but because people genuinely warmed to him and liked him.

“When I hired Chris at World Rugby, I immediately knew I going to get on well with him. Very capable, passionate about his job and zero ego, but he was also always smiling and slightly mischievous – immediately winning the best Christmas jumper competition in the office. He was very loyal, respected and honest.

“Chris was just one of life’s good guys and I will sorely miss him.”

“His beaming smile and effortless charm mixed with an intricate knowledge of the industry made him a nightmare to negotiate with but a delight to work with!”

Henri Kamerling, Pitch International

Julien Millereux, director of sport at TF1 Group, first met Synnott during the French negotiations for this year’s Rugby World Cup.

“He was a genuinely kind and positive person”, said Millereux. “He went through his illness with a lot of bravery and kept in touch with me all the way. Amidst all this sadness he at least had the chance to see his favourite club West Ham winning a European trophy, which I know made him happy.

“He was a good professional but more importantly a dad and husband and we, at TF1, send to Chris’ family all our condolences and thoughts.”

Henri Kamerling, Pitch International’s managing director of football, rugby and global partnerships, described it as “no exaggeration to say that Chris lit up every room he walked into”.

“His beaming smile and effortless charm mixed with an intricate knowledge of the industry made him a nightmare to negotiate with but a delight to work with! A man devoid of any ego, his death leaves a huge hole in the lives of everyone who was lucky enough to spend time with him”, continued Kamerling.

“I knew Chris from his time representing World Rally when he masterminded bringing the coverage back to ITV”, said Tom Graham, director of legal and business affairs, content, rights and marketing at the UK commercial broadcaster.

“Chris had huge personal warmth and charisma that meant he was great fun to be with. He also had great personal integrity. I always knew I could trust his word. We were lucky to have Chris as custodian of two key rights relationships during the disruption and uncertainty of Covid as he gradually stepped out of his World Rally role and into his World Rugby role. He managed the situation with his customary honesty and good humour.

“I will miss his commercial tenacity and creativity, as will those whose rights he represented. But most of all it is his personal warmth and his good company that will be missed. The world of sport will be a poorer place without him. He was a good guy.”

Posting on LinkedIn, former SABC Sport general manager Gary Rathbone, lauded Synnott as a “wonderful person and an absolute pleasure to work with”.