McManus: It’s a Good Time to Be in the Sports Business

CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus discussed succession plans, the relationship with Turner Sports, and the continued strength of live-sports programming in a TV era dominated by DVRs and binge viewing during the B&C Sports Business and Technology Summit in New York City.

McManus

CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus

“I am going to gradually start handing over the reins to David [Berson, president, CBS Sports] and he will one day run CBS Sports,” said McManus. “He has a good sense of programming, business affairs, production, and management. So he will slowly assume more day-to-day responsibilities, but I am not going away for a while.”

One of the challenges both McManus and Berson will work on is to continue to grow the CBS Sports Network, the cable entity that McManus says has a different philosophy from competing networks like the NBC Sports Network and FS1, the Fox Sports network that launches later this summer.

“They are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in programming and that makes sense for them,” he said. “We’re trying to build CBS Sports Network more slowly and strategically. We don’t want to invest that much money on content and we already have great college football and basketball content.”

McManus said he had a lot of admiration for what Fox Sports is doing with the launch of FS1. “We will watch what happens, but we will not be watching what they’re doing and then changing our strategy,” he said.

That strategy to date has helped the CBS Sports Network surpass 50 million subscribers, an important threshold to McManus. During big events the CBS Sports Network shines, as it did this year when the CBS broadcast network had events like the Super Bowl, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and the Masters; events that dominated the mindshare of sports fans across the country from February to April.

During Super Bowl week this year, for example, CBS Sports set up five different studios in Jackson Square in New Orleans and delivered 50 hours of programming to the CBS Sports Network. And while Fox Sports has the Super Bowl in 2014, the SEC football slate, featuring a matchup of Alabama and Texas A&M on Sept. 14, is poised to deliver big ratings for CBS.

While the Super Bowl won’t be on CBS in 2014, March Madness will and, once again, the unique partnership with Turner Sports that has both Turner and CBS working together on everything from production plans, marketing, sales, and branding will be in place.

“It’s worked incredibly well as we have two very large media companies and combine efforts on technology, talent, marketing, and branding, and it is coordinated by both [companies], something that has not been done before,” said McManus.

For example, when watching one of the early round games, viewers will see scores of the other games going on at the top of the screen flash when they are getting close, prompting them to change channels.

“You have never seen that done before and the production coordination is seamless,” he said. “The TruTV game has every bit of production value as the other games.”

The biggest change next year will be the Final Four’s move to Turner Sports per an option in the agreement the two networks signed two years ago.

“Turner Sports wants to be an equal partner, not a cable partner,” said McManus. “And in the latter part of the deal they want some better content.”

Reflecting on this week’s big event, the Miami Heat’s victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, McManus said it just shows the continuing power of live sports.

“When you have live sports and a compelling storyline there is no drama on TV like it,” he said. “It’s TiVo-proof because no one wants to watch the Spurs and Heat at 8 a.m. [on the DVR]. They want to talk about it. And the power of live sports is growing… it’s a good time to be in the sports business.”