Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

ESPN: We all live in sports towns (And tell great jokes)

December 1, 2009

ESPN President George Bodenheimer has been at the business of TV sports, one way or another, for nearly three decades, starting in the mailroom and working his way up.

It’s the classic media story — and this one even involved a stint driving through nearly every little town in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi to sell this odd new 24-hour sports network to cable distributors.

Here’s one thing he’s learned: Every town thinks it’s a sports town. Sort of like everybody thinks they have a good sense of humor.

As he said at the Global Media Summit:

Every town I pulled into, I was calling cable operators. They’d say ‘Hey George, your idea is a little crazy. And we’re glad you’re here — but this is a sports town.’ I’m telling you from experience every town in the United States, and maybe the world, I don’t think that’s an overstatement, considers itself a sports town. People always said we’re in a niche business. If we’re in a niche, we’re in a mighty big niche.”

And that hasn’t changed. Indeed, given the downturn in the economy, people may be more sports-crazed than ever, he said.

I think sports is a little bit of comfort food to people in the United States and indeed around the world. It’s why there’s a lot of fans. It takes you to a different place.  There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. You see an outcome. The value is only going to grow in the DVR world and the ‘I gotta have everything in two minutes world.’ I just think live sports are going to continue to be a bit of an oasis in be a good driver for the media business.

Given that, it’s no surprise that ESPN wants to launch even more of its local sites — starting with LA and New York. And moving to… Texarkana?

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