Sports Asset Management Committee Profile: Mark Haden, VP of Engineering and IT, MLB Network

By Juliane Pettorossi, Editorial Assistant, SVG

Earlier this year, SVG launched the Sports Asset Management (SAM) Committee, dedicated to advancing the sports-media industry’s content-management and -storage capabilities and tools. This group, comprising asset-management leaders from each of the major U.S. professional leagues and college-sports entities, spearheaded July’s Sports Asset Management Forum and will contribute in-depth content to the upcoming online SVG Sports Asset Management Playbook (to be unveiled later this year). SVG is profiling the careers of all eight SAM Committee members.

“Always keep an open mind.” This mantra has stuck with Mark Haden, VP of engineering and IT at MLB Network, throughout his entire career.

That has been evident at MLB Network, where his varied background in technical systems, operations, and finance all came into play. When he joined the startup network prior to its Jan. 1, 2009 debut, he understood that it was moving toward a file-based, cutting-edge workflow.

“I had a combination of knowledge of electronic newsroom systems, and they knew that I understood and loved sports,” he says. “I was immediately enthusiastic about having such an important role in building a network from the ground up — especially with a merged engineering and IT department.”

Haden has faced two main challenges at MLB Network: to initially get the facility built in line with President/CEO Tony Petitti’s vision and standards in a short time and to find staffers willing to put the work into a startup and be proud of the result. When it came to building the facility, many decisions were educated guesses, and Haden’s job was to take what consultants had done and make it work for what the network wanted to showcase on the screen.

“We had to fine-tune everything in six months,” he says, “so that, when we launched we were as flawless as possible.”

Haden feels that, in the production business, it helps to have touched on as many different disciplines as possible. Being an engineer at heart but with business acumen, he found it challenging to find staff members with broad backgrounds and an understanding of news workflows, rather than specialists in one specific area.

Haden was about 12 years old when he discovered the career fantasy of working in television. Until then, he had dreamed of a career in sports or music.

Haden’s mother had been an executive assistant for Sylvester (Pat) Weaver, president of NBC in the 1950s. When Haden went to visit her former colleagues at NBC’s New York Studios, he was awed by the place and especially by the sight of a full-size replica of the lunar excursion module.

“It was right then that I got the bug for television and for the creative side,” says Haden.

Although he originally aspired to become a director, he had a great deal of technical aptitude handed down from his father, an accomplished dental surgeon. At 16, he worked at CBS affiliate WBNG Binghamton, NY, where he was able to work with lighting, switchers, graphics, cameras, and film.

“Whatever you wanted to do, they let you do it and learn from it,” he recalls. “It was a small station, and they only had a handful of people, so, if you showed the initiative, they would let you try your hand at just about anything.”

Haden attended the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, graduating with a B.A. in television/radio. During his college years, he was music director at the school’s radio station, WAER; program director of Union University Television; and also a DJ at local clubs to make a few extra bucks. Toward the end of his sophomore year, he was hired on at local PBS affiliate WCNY.

“At Syracuse, I got much more involved with learning technology,” he says. “Out of college, I had pretty much six years of experience, which really gave me a leg up in the inevitable job search.”

Following school, and after almost landing a morning-drive radio job in Chicago, Haden made the leap to New York City. He figured he could always go back to WCNY if he needed to, and he asked himself, “If you don’t take the chance now, when are you going to?”

“I was young and aggressive enough to say to myself, “If you want to work in television, you have to go to New York,” he says, “It just felt right.”

Moving from friend’s couch to friend’s couch and searching for work, Haden landed in a video-production house called Windsor Total Video in 1981, running camera, editing tape, running a Chyron, mixing audio, and learning lighting design. After a few years, he moved on to Modern Telecommunications, where he performed the same technical functions while learning video shading and the newly emerging Ultimatte system.

When Lifetime Television built its studios at Kauffman Astoria, Haden served as engineer-in-charge for over a year. In 1990, he became the field technical manager for USA Networks, where he got more exposure to sports: he was brought on to do the World League of American Football, along with Tuesday Night Fights (a weekly boxing series) and the French Open, US Open, and many other tennis events.

“They were trying to bring their productions up to a higher level,” he says, “and they let me take risks and chances.”

After six years, Haden joined HBO as director of East Coast production. He brought HBO “up the HD path,” as well as doing line producing, budgeting, and planning for the technical side of boxing series, documentaries, sports series, and selected entertainment shows. In 2003, he started his own company called Penguin Television, bringing technical innovations to such clients as USA Network and All Mobile Video. He also was lead technical producer for the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup Soccer tournament, overseeing domestic and international productions, including ESPN’s.

In 2004, ABC called, looking for a news technical manager. Since Haden wanted to get off the road and spend more time at home, he took the job and helped upgrade the network’s Times Square studio to HD and supported Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and other shows.

In 2008, when MLB Network was in the planning stages and needed staffing, Haden was tapped to join the team to start up and run its Engineering/IT department in the lead-up to the network’s record-setting launch in 50 million homes.

For Haden, the most rewarding part of working at MLB Network has been the success of the company. The network has received 37 Sports Emmy Award nominations and 12 Sports Emmy Awards, with 10 nominations and seven awards alone for its flagship studio program, MLB Tonight.

“There are a lot of people that I respect in this business,” he says, “and the feedback that I get from them is incredibly positive.”

For Haden and his colleagues, in the end, it’s all about the product and what comes out on the screen.

When it comes to those he admires in the production business, one man stands out above the rest: late Academy Award-winning film director Akira Kurosawa. “He was an amazing talent,” says Haden, “and one of the finest directors we have ever seen.”

He remembers when Kurosawa received the Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1990: he shuffled on to the stage, turned to the camera, and said, “Thank you, but I’ve only just begun to learn film.”

It blew Haden away.

“I realized then that you could never know it all,” says Haden. “There will always be something you can learn — each and every day. If you’re curious, be curious. Live life with an open mind.”