National TV outlets present many of the big games, but regional sports networks cover the vast majority of contests, news and behind-the-scenes action for fans of Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and college sports.
RSNs are a key conduit by which fans and communities stay connected to their favorite teams providing consistent, high-profile and highly rated fare — a recent look at Nielsen data shows that Major League Baseball games were the top programming during primetime in 12 of 29 U.S. markets from March 31 through July 24, and finished second or third in seven other DMAs —night after night, season after season.
They’re also key cogs in the media empires of 21st Century Fox and Comcast/NBCUniversal, as well as those of other media companies, teams and distributors.
All told, RSNs generate an estimated $5 billion in annual revenue, via the dual stream of advertising (20% to 30%) and affiliate fees (70% to 80%).
It’s the ever-escalating rights fees RSNs pay clubs, leading to higher monthly subscriber license fees, that draw the most headlines, disrupt service and frustrate fans. The best example now is that most Los Angeles Dodgers fans have not been able to see their team vault to the top of the National League West standings because providers are not carrying startup SportsNet LA. And Comcast SportsNet Houston has been embroiled in a contentious bankruptcy case.
For the most part, though, RSNs provide reliable programming and revenue streams for their owners.
Here is a look at 11 executives — the Multichannel News RSN All-Stars — who represent a diversity of the disciplines it takes to successfully operate these networks.
Director of Systems Architecture and Technology, Pac-12 Networks
All-Star Credentials: A University of Illinois graduate, Adametz parlayed an internship at a local TV station in Chicago into what became an engineer’s job at the Big Ten Network. He also worked at Groupon during its IPO period before joining Pac-12 in his current capacity in March 2012.
Pro Player: Adametz was instrumental in creating the conference’s campus IP network. It’s the nexus to all productions, encompassing events televised on the national network as well as the six regional channels: Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Bay Area, Los Angeles and Mountain. The system trades on the backbone of the 12 schools’ high-speed educational and research network. Adametz played a lead role in creating the MultiCam Mobile Input-Out Unit (nicknamed the MI/O, rhyming with Rio) that enables Pac-12 Networks to relocate most of the technical production components necessary to produce a live sporting event from the remote sites to the Pac-12 technical operations center in San Francisco.
Locker-Room Chatter: While football and men’s basketball coverage features traditional on-site production, Adametz said Pac-12 Networks will continue to follow its remote-production game plan that this year will span some 850 live events on the national networks and the six regionals, plus another 1,150 that will manifest digitally.
In His Words: “When a network reaches its third year, it either lays back or continues to invest in development. The Pac-12 is definitely going forward.” Example: Pac-12 Networks is working toward 3D football instant replays to “see if the knee touched the ground, for example” on a play, for forwarding to an off-site official at the Pac- 12 Officiating Command Center in San Francisco.
— Mike Reynolds
Senior Vice President of Finance Fox Sports
All-Star Credentials: Los Angeles-based Chambers joined Fox 15 years ago and spent his first two years working on the acquisition of Speedvision, which became Speed and is now Fox Sports 1. Since then, he has been engaged on the regional network side. Maintaining a low profile and an ever-growing spreadsheet, he now has financial responsiblity for Fox’s 22 RSNs, forecasting and budgeting and managing revenue and expenses, including those lines tied to programming, production, ad sales, research and overhead. He also plays a pivotal role in ensuring that long-term team rights deals are properly structured and he works closely with Fox Sports executive VP of finance John Charlton and Fox Networks Group chief operating officer Randy Freer to make sure deals are in sync with 21st Century Fox’s long-term financial strategy.
Pro Player: Chambers has 10 RSN direct reports and another one from corporate. “My best asset is the people who work for me,” he said. He’s also “joined at the hip” to Fox Sports Regional Networks president Jeff Krolik, with whom he speaks “10 times a day, about everything from rights, production, adding extra games and ad sales.” His first sports love is English soccer team Chelsea.
Locker Room Chatter: Despite changes in distributors, networks and team owners, Fox’s total lineup of 45 MLB, NHL and NBA teams has remained relatively constant over the past decade.
In His Words: “The regional properties are a very important part of 21st Century Fox and will remain a very exciting business going forward. The Fox RSNs are well-positioned for the future. We have a lot of teams locked up for a long time.”
— Mike Reynolds
Senior Vice President Business and Legal Affairs, NBC Sports Group SVP, Strategic Partnerships, NBC Sports Regional Networks
All-Star Credentials: Cohen’s position allows her to focus on establishing partnerships and joint ventures with key business partners of NBC Sports Regional Networks. She is integral to the team that puts the deal together with a focus on programming rights and support services. She has helped NBC Sports Group sign new, long-term partnerships with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Sacramento Kings. She was also a major player in the integration of Comcast’s legacy sports businesses, including regional sports networks, The Golf Channel and Versus (now NBC Sports Network). Her current duties include the developing of live, local streaming rights throughout NBC’s RSNs.
Pro Player: Cohen began her legal career working for the Philadelphia-based law firm Stradley, Ronon, Stevens and Young, working on mergers and acquisitions, securities, financing, licensing and intellectual property matters. She joined Comcast-Spectacor in 1996 and began working with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Philadelphia 76ers, the arenas and arena management. She was also an original partner in Comcast’s first regional sports network, which launched in Philadelphia in 1997. She became vice president and associate general counsel of Comcast-Spectacor in 2000 and has remained in an executive capacity since, first for Comcast and now for NBCUniversal.
In Her Words: “I can definitely say that this was not what I envisioned myself doing. What I envisioned myself doing was working in house at a company whose business I found interesting and challenging. When I first joined Comcast- Spectacor in 1996, that presented me with that opportunity. I had been a lawyer in private practice. Having the corner office in private practice was never my ultimate goal.”
— Kevin Czerwinski
Vice President, Marketing and Business Development SportsNet New York
All-Star Credentials: A consummate New York sports and entertainment marketer, DeParis came to the TV home of the New York Mets and Jets in 2007 from the New York Daily News (SVP of strategic marketing and sales) after holding management positions at Fox Television (WNYW and WWOR) and Radio City Music Hall Productions. Her purview extends from brand marketing and on-air promotion to advertising, events and affiliate relations.
Pro Player: SNY has won three New York Emmy Awards and kudos from PromaxBDA for catchy TV-ad campaigns, promos and digital projects with a goal to “let everyone in the New York area know that we are the only place on TV that covers all New York sports,” DeParis said. Its initial “NY NY Sports Sports” campaign was set in a sports souvenir store — a metaphor for SNY — where fans pulled pranks on each other in support of their teams. Current ads show nine guys living in the same house and failing to get along, until they all agree they want to watch the SportsNite news program.
Locker-Room Chatter: DeParis served as associate publisher of the Daily News website and learned that campaigns have to target audiences wherever they are, including online. In her tenure at Radio City Music Hall, the venue hosted ESPN’s ESPY Awards for the first time. As for SNY’s adept use of humor, she notes “we don’t have a huge budget like a national network might, so we have to be very creative.”
In Her Words: “I’m blessed. I’ve had a great career so far, it’s far from over, and I have a lot of fun doing what I do”.
— Kent Gibbons
Senior Vice President, Executive Producer, MSG Networks
All-Star Credentials: Before joining MSG Networks in 2005, Filippi served stints at ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN and USA Network. He produced U.S. Open and French Open tennis and served as a producer on four Winter Olympic Games with three different broadcast networks. He was vice president and executive producer at Classic Sports Network through its sale to ESPN.
Pro Player: At MSG Networks, Filippi oversees more than 350 live telecasts each year on MSG and MSG Plus for six professional teams: the NBA’s New York Knicks, the NHL’s New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, the WNBA’s New York Liberty and MLS’s New York Red Bulls. Reporting to MSG Networks executive vice president and general manager Dan Ronayne, Filippi also oversees the regionals’ expanding preand post-game coverage and live studio shows. The six-time New York Emmy Award winner will be a busy guy on Oct. 11, when the Rangers, Devils, Islanders, Knicks and Red Bulls are all in action.
Locker Room Chatter: Filippi is still buzzing about the Rangers’ journey to the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, and added: “We’re very excited to see the Knicks play under [new coach] Derek Fisher and [president] Phil Jackson. We’re certainly looking forward to the new seasons.”
In His Words: “We strive for the highest level of production. We don’t want people tuning in and thinking this is an RSN, but a [national] network-level telecast. We have national-level announcers [Mike Breen, Sam Rosen, Al Trautwig, Jill Martin, Kenny Albert]. When people interview for jobs here, they always talk about our reputation for network-quality production. This is New York and that’s what people expect.”
— Mike Reynolds
Vice President of Production Fox Sports Regional Networks
All-Star Credentials: Gralnik is the coordinating producer for Fox’s nearly 2,200 local Major League Baseball telecasts, ensuring quality control for telecasts featuring 15 MLB teams and 12 National Hockey League teams.
Pro Player: The University of Southern California graduate began working behind the scenes on local news broadcasts in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. He went to ESPN in 1993 and was part of the team that launched ESPN2. Gralnik was one of two producers of the original SportsNight With Keith Olbermann. He stayed at ESPN into 1995 before heading back to California, where he spent time with KNBC working on Olympic coverage. Gralnik moved to Fox Sports Net in 1996 and began working on the assignment desk. He then moved to the remote production department and in 2008 he was named vice president of production.
Locker Room Chatter: Gralnik oversees the production of 27 professional teams and views his short-term goals through the same lens he has viewed his position at every stop in his career — simply do the best job that he can do and continue to help people get better in whatever role they may be filling.
In His Words: “I love being at Fox and I see myself in the same role five years from now. There is constant growth, so you are constantly adjusting and creating ways to do things on the regional network. The evolution of the industry in the last five years is demanding in and of itself because things happen so quickly. My goal is to make all that work.”
— Kevin Czerwinski
Vice President of Programming and Production, Executive Producer New England Sports Network
All-Star Credentials: Maar arrived at NESN two years ago with more than a decade at local TV stations; he was part of the group that started ESPN Original Entertainment and led the redevelopment of originals at Fox Sports North. He’s won three national Emmys, three Telly Awards and more than two dozen regional Emmys.
Pro Player: In 2013 alone, Maar and NESN’s programming department launched the cooking lifestyle show Dining Playbook; afternoon news show NESN Live; kids’ pregame show NESN Clubhouse; the NESN 30 series of 200 vignettes; and a one-hour documentary on its 30th anniversary. Morning show NESN Sports Update is planned for the fall. Enhancements such as viewer-generated videos and fan texts have been added to live telecasts, including Red Sox and Bruins games (the teams are the network’s owners) and are helping to hold more of the 18-34 age group, Maar said.
Locker-Room Chatter: The original programming push will continue in 2015 with NESN’s Next Producer (working title), in which college students submit short sports films in a judged competition, seeking a cash prize and a job at the network.
In His Words: “We really wanted to take a look at how to entertain and engage passionate sports fans throughout New England and be relevant. Relevant includes things like being live, having the most compelling content. But it also means doing things that are more innovative, particularly for the new age groups that are coming in and are consuming media differently.”
— Kent Gibbons
Phillip Mallios Senior Vice President of Affiliate Sales, Altitude Sports & Entertainment
All-Star Credentials: Mallios joined the Kroenke Sportsowned TV home of the Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Avalanche (NHL) and Colorado Rapids (MLS) in January 2004 after serving at Fox Sports Southwest and its precursor, Home Team Sports; at interactive-TV firm ACTV; and at The Football Network.
Pro Player: Recruited (happily) to Altitude by his former Fox colleague, now Kroenke Sports CEO Jim Martin, Mallios was a key member of the team (with executive vice president David Gluck) that negotiated the affiliate deals enabling Altitude to launch. Dish Network was the first big distributor to sign up, in July, and key cable operator Comcast went down to the wire before the first Nuggets game on Nov. 6. That also was Mallios’s 15th wedding anniversary — he recalls asking for a table where he would have a cellphone signal at the Houston restaurant where he was dining with his wife, Susan. “Renewals are actually coming up as we speak,” he said. “We’re pretty busy trying to get these deals done before the end of the month.”
Locker Room Chatter: While maintaining and expanding Altitude’s 3.1-million subscriber base across 10 states is job one, Mallios’s responsibilities have grown to include authorizations for Kroenke-owned World Fishing Network and Outdoor Channel, and for Comcast SportsNet Houston. A key goal this year is securing and extending streaming rights to Altitude affiliates, “hopefully by the first Nuggets game” on Oct. 29.
In His Words: “We are definitely a success story in that we proved we could do this. We’re still moving ahead and excited about where we’ve been, and looking forward to another great 10 years.”
— Kent Gibbons
Vice President, News Programming Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia
All-Star Credentials: Prior to joining CSN Philadelphia in 2005, Murray oversaw the launch of SportsNet New York and CSN Chicago in the capacity of news director for both networks. The Philadelphia native was also in charge of WCBSTV’s newsroom in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. The network won an Edward R. Murrow Award for its coverage of the events of that day and the aftermath. Murray also launched the Middle East Bureau for CBS and played an integral role in the production of BET’s nightly news.
Pro Player: Murray oversees all the areas of CSN Philadelphia’s Emmy Award-winning news programming, including SportsNet Central and Philly Sports Talk, as well as pre- and post-game programming and specials. Under her leadership, the network has won five Edward R. Murrow Awards, including one for the nationally-recognized feature “Remembering Richie”, the story of a Philly native who was killed on Sept. 11, 2001. She also coordinated NBC Sports Regional Networks’ coverage of the Winter Olympics and multiple Super Bowls.
Locker Room Chatter: “Ultimately, my goal [short and long term] has always been, no matter what the genre, to get the facts right and create content that is compelling, creative and entertaining for the viewer. That’s been our goal and we’ll continue to have that goal.”
In Her Words: “I tell people, and I sound like a broken record, that I am one of the fortunate people who wakes up every day and gets to cover sports for a living. I’ve been able to do it in multiple great cities, but the chance to do it in my hometown is pretty amazing to me.”
— Kevin Czerwinski
Michael Spirito Vice President, Business Development and Digital Media Fox Sports Regional Networks
All-Star Credentials: A pitcher and football player at Amherst College, where he received a degree in economics, Spirito is also an alum of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He began his career as investment banking analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston and was a founding member and senior manager of private investment vehicle AOL Time Warner Ventures. He joined YES Network in 2006 as director of business development, rising to vice president of business development and digital media. He retains his duties at YES and assumed his new role with Fox last month.
Pro Player: Spirito played a lead role with the negotiations, execution and operation of the first-ever local-in-market authenticated, TV-everywhere live stream in MLB history with the Yankees on YES Broadband in 2009. He also helped push YES’s national cable network and its full-time transition to HD, and the first-ever baseball game broadcast in 3D. Under his watch, YESNetwork.com has been nominated for seven Emmys, winning a pair for best sports website. Unique visitors at Yankees and Brooklyn Nets blogs are up 20% year-over-year. Buoyed by original content like “Captain’s Log,” chronicling retiring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter’s farewell tour, YES video usage has surged 138% across all platforms. YES’s social community has pushed past the 600,000 mark when Twitter followers and Facebook friends, along with those of the RSN’s announcers, are combined.
In His Words: “The idea is to create and implement strategies that work well for Fox, day-by-day and region-by-region. That means working with assets we have and building on that base. You want to enhance engagement and community.”
— Mike Reynolds
Vice President, Chief Counsel, Sports Programming, Time Warner Cable
All-Star Credentials: Vermeychuk has been the lead counsel at Time Warner Cable responsible for sports and regional sports network operations since 2011. He leads the legal oversight team that handles all the day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles-based RSNs. This also includes the MSO’s entire portfolio of regional sports, news and lifestyle channels, including NY1 News and the TWC SportsChannels in Kansas City, upstate New York, Ohio and the Carolinas.
Pro Player: He has been with Time Warner Cable since 2007. Since then he has been a major play er, helping shape sports media coverage in Los Angeles. He advised on and negotiated each of TWC’s media-rights deals, including deals with the Los Angeles Lakers, Dodgers and Galaxy, the Mountain West Conference and the Carolina Panthers. Prior to his current position, Vermeychuk worked on content acquisition. He was also an associate at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, LLP for five years after graduating from NYU law school in 2002. He did his undergr aduate work at Princeton.
In His Words: “People forget how important it is that your job brings you satisfaction, even for lawyers. I was 28 at the time and I wanted to stay in the law but try a completely different industry. I came here to work on the content-acquisition side and then the company made a decision that it wanted to get into the sports content side of the business. We made a big play for the Lakers rights and when we got that deal it was, ‘Wow, now we need to launch networks and dive into that side of the business.’ I have been very fortunate to get into sports at this place and where I am.”
— Kevin Czerwinski