Harvey Schiller's departure from Turner Sports set off
a major restructuring of the Turner Broadcasting System Inc. division last week, as
chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk named three executives to oversee units previously run by
Mark Lazarus, formerly executive vice president of Turner
Sports Sales, was named president of Turner Sports.
McGuirk also decided to move the company's struggling
World Championship Wrestling unit out of the Turner Sports division. He said Bradley
Siegel, president of Turner's general-entertainment networks, will also oversee WCW.
Stan Kasten, president of the Atlanta Braves Major League
Baseball team and the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association and chairman of
the Philips Arena, will now oversee the new Atlanta Thrashers National Hockey League team,
McGuirk wasn't available for an interview last week.
In the prepared statement announcing the restructuring, he said, "These operational
alignments are designed to create a fully integrated sports division."
Schiller will soon be named head of the planned YankeeNets
organization, a source familiar with the talks said. In February, MLB's New York
Yankees and the NBA's New Jersey Nets announced plans to merge.
While Lazarus is an experienced sales and marketing
executive, his job experience is sharply different than that of Schiller, who joined
Turner in 1994 after a stint as executive director of the United States Olympic Committee.
Schiller was commissioner of the Southeastern Conference from 1986 through 1988.
Lazarus said he's become more involved with the
programming side of Turner Sports in recent years, and he's also developed
relationships with sports-rights owners. "I've been an integral part of the
entire sports business," he said. "I've been preparing for this every day
for the past five years."
Along with NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, Schiller also
spearheaded Turner's and NBC's plan to launch a new football league in 2001.
NBC and Turner have been looking for big-event programming
to replace their National Football League contracts, which they lost in January 1998. The
companies originally said they would decide whether to move forward with the league by the
fall of 1998, but they have delayed the timing of a decision indefinitely.
"Maybe yes, maybe no," Lazarus said when asked if
the companies would move on the plan. "It remains an agenda item for both us and NBC.
We don't have a definite date when we'll make an announcement."
Lazarus said he would consider scheduling nontraditional
programming such as extreme sports "if it's something that consumers or viewers
think is important to them. We're not going to create or purchase programming just to
have programming. We're not a 24-hour sports network."
Since Turner lost its football contract to ESPN, the
programmer's core sports fare has been baseball games from its Braves franchise and
basketball games from its NBA contract.
While basketball ratings increased last year, Turner
suffered from last season's NBA lockout, losing 32 games scheduled on Turner Network
Television and TBS Superstation. In June, Turner announced that it would send $20 million
(26 cents per subscriber) in rebate checks to cable operators to compensate them for games
missed during the lockout.
NBA executives said they would compensate Turner for games
missed during the lockout through either a cash payment or by adding additional games to
its contract. Last week, Lazarus said Turner had been "compensated" by the NBA,
but he declined to offer specifics.
Lazarus said Turner Sports will soon announce 10 or more
sponsors for the inaugural Winter Goodwill Games, which will be held in Lake Placid, N.Y.,
Time Warner Inc. vice chairman Ted Turner has been a
passionate advocate of the Goodwill Games, but the event has also been a money-loser.
"Of course, we would want the Goodwill Games to be a
profitable event, but we think it has value, and it's an investment for us,"
Lazarus said one of his priorities would be to integrate
the Turner Sports sales and marketing personnel to "work hand-in-hand with the
scheduling and promotions people," adding, "It's really a formalizing a
structure that we already had in place."