SES 2011: Fox’s Greenberg Says Both Sports and Entertainment Are All About the Show

“There really isn’t much of a difference between sports and entertainment,” opined George Greenberg, EVP of programming and production for Fox Sports, in his keynote address at SVG’s inaugural Sports Entertainment Summit.

“We’re all related,” he said. “Because of [former ABC Sports President] Roone Arledge, who was a showman and a real entertainer, he’s made us all family. If you think about how many careers and events he’s launched, we’re all from the same DNA.”

In his afternoon address at LA LIVE on Jan. 18, Greenberg discussed — and demonstrated — the importance of being a showman every day, but he noted that it is difficult to dive into anything creatively without a technical team in lockstep.

“A great TD can make or break you,” he said. “As a producer/director by trade, that’s the most important quality to free you, knowing that you never have to worry that somebody has your back.”

Greenberg focused his afternoon remarks on the similarities between sports, news, and entertainment. Learning his trade at a local news station, he did everything, from hanging lights and running a projector to creating promotional spots and producing.

“When I started thinking about how much sports and entertainment shared, there were virtually no differences,” he said. “We’re all showmen. Whether you’re directing an NFL telecast, a NASCAR race, or a poker tournament, you’ve got to treat them all the same way. It is a tribute to all of you who have worked these events that you can take a sports guy and put on an unbelievable rock-and-roll show [as in the case of the U2 Super Bowl halftime show].”

In both sports and entertainment, Greenberg stressed, it is necessary to think about a beginning, middle, and end to each piece of programming. He also emphasized the importance of working with people who think in that same three-part storytelling mindset.

“At ABC Sports, I learned how to tell short stories and blow them up,” he said. “If I can build a promo in 30 seconds, now that someone’s going to give me three minutes to tell a story on a quad amputee in an Iron Man race, of course, I can. Sports became entertainment very quickly, and all the guys that trained me are the same guys that did news programming and Duck, Duck Goose. Most of the lessons I’ve learned have nothing to do with sports. That sense of production crosses all barriers.”

Greenberg discussed the launch of The Best Damn Sports Show Period, noting that it was a sports show for about two minutes, before it became an entertainment show. With a cast of comedians, athletes, and sportscasters, as well as invited guests, Best Damn Sports Show was more about entertainment and getting the job done than it was about reporting sports scores or statistics.

“Half of our material had nothing to do with sports; it was about entertainment,” he said. “I asked this crew to do an awful lot. We did wrestling matches, live poker, Hooters beauty pageants, comedy roasts, the Sports Emmys. I made this crew do things they didn’t want to do, but each of them became better broadcasters for it.”

Sports and entertainment are so similar, he explained, that it’s no wonder sports executives are often put in charge of entertainment and news divisions. The one dividing line, he said, is in show development, because entertainment shows must find ways to suck viewers in, but the two worlds feature a great deal of overlap.

Throughout his innovative career in sports, entertainment, marketing, and promotions, Greenberg has gleaned his best lessons from sports: “I learned everything I have from working on big sporting events. In sports and entertainment, we use a lot of the same language. At the end of the day, be a showman. We’re all one big happy family.”