Sporting Success - Multichannel

Sporting Success

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Cathy Weeden was having a good year in 2005. Early on, she led the on-air transition effort from Sunshine Network to Sun Sports, replete with state-of-the-art graphics, a new logo and original musical accompaniment.

Last May, Weeden — who had been working as Sun’s vice president and general manager, assumed the same titles and duties for FSN Florida, which was acquired by News Corp.

In October, Weeden, a veteran marathoner, fulfilled a longtime dream, qualifying for the Boston Marathon with a strong performance in a race in Columbus, Ohio.

Weeden’s 41st birthday on Dec. 2 went the other way: She found out that she had breast cancer.

A few weeks later she had surgery. In mid-January, Weeden began chemotherapy. A spokeswoman said last week that Weeden was on the job and “feeling good” after her first treatment. Weeden says that radiation treatment will follow once the chemo regimen is completed.

Earlier, she was reflective and philosophical in talking about her situation.

“I was feeling pretty good about myself, my job, my family and friends when I found out,” she recalls. “At first, I thought this is something that will be part of my life for next six months. Now, I realize I’m going to have to deal with it the rest of my life. Fortunately, the doctors say it hasn’t hit the lymph nodes, dramatically lessening the chances of it reoccurring.”

Professionally, as was the case throughout much of last year, Weeden is continuing to focus much of her attention on integrating two of the nation’s largest regional sports networks. Orlando-based Sun counts some 6.1 million subscribers, while FSN Florida, located in Sunrise, is home to 5.1 customers.

“There were a lot of things to consider: the networks and their respective brands; the culture and the product at the channels. We had to safeguard against things falling through the cracks operationally. Now, I think we’re at the point where we can start thinking more creatively.”

FSN Florida has long-term rights deals with Major League Baseball’s Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, as well as the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers. Sun has deals with the National Basketball Association’s Orlando Magic and Miami Heat and the NHL champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Weeden deflected a question about whether the networks could divvy up pro teams’ rights. “There are some contractual issues first. But we are looking at ways to offer the different teams to the viewers.”

She did say she wants the two networks to develop more shoulder programming — profile series and information and access shows — like those have been developed around the Lightning, Panthers and Heat.

Moreover, she has her eye on more Florida-centric programming like Sports Talk Live, Chevy Tailgate Saturday and Chevy Florida Fishing Report.”

“Florida is a peninsula with over 1,200 miles of coastline. We service our viewers weekly with information about where the fish are and what they’re biting, so they can make that two-hour drive from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic and find the hot spots,” she says.

Weeden says her most gratifying moments on the job came with Sun’s coverage of the Lightning’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2003-04. “We were able to deliver so much coverage, access and information on the team to our viewers,” she says.

A journalism graduate of the University of Central Florida, Weeden found her way to Sunshine in 1990 and held affiliate and marketing positions. She served as assistant general manager from 1996 to 1999, working for Jim Liberatore, who must recently drove Speed Channel. Liberatore says Weeden really began to step up in 1996 with a contract for the Florida Gators.

“We already had Florida State and had just signed Florida. There was a lot of competition between the schools, the alumni, the executives at the universities,” he says. “It was a fragile, delicate negotiation and she handled it quite well. She had to make both sides feel that they are important parts of the network. And they still are today.”

Weeden relocated to Phoenix, heading up FSN Arizona as its general manager for two years. “She went out to Arizona, which is a smaller regional,” says Liberatore. “She learned more about running the business and came back ready to take over the reins here.”

Which she did in 2002, when she was named VP and GM of Sunshine, before she added FSN Florida last year.

“Cathy’s success in this business is attributable to her two greatest strengths: The passion for her work and her ability to build and maintain positive professional relationships, both internally and externally,” says FSN chief operating officer Randy Freer.

Her passion and positive attitude were on display last October in Columbus, around the 21st mile marker. “I was getting a little tired, but I realized what I had to do: I had to go to a certain pace in order to get the time,” she remembers. “I thought to myself, 'You know, you’re going to be really uncomfortable for the next hour, but the reward will be great when you make it.’ I made it with 90 seconds to spare.”

While sidetracked from her goal of running in Boston this Patriot’s Day, she still plans on competing in Beantown: “My goal only has been put off until 2007.”

As for her medical situation, she remains pragmatic yet feisty. “I don’t have much of a choice: You get the treatment or die. I’m trying to look at it with some sense of accomplishment. I will become a much stronger person for surviving it.”