It's been a year full of memorable championships and sporting events for CBS Sports and the PGA Championship provides yet another opportunity for a big moment.
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From the Super Bowl to the Final Four to this weekend’s PGA Championship at Bethpage, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus watches his company’s biggest telecasts from inside its production truck. But during the Masters last month, he ducked out.
Following Tiger Woods’s victory, McManus motored the quarter-mile from the broadcast hub to Butler Cabin, breaking his tendency to stay with director Lance Barrow and executive producer Harold Bryant. “I wanted to shake Tiger’s hand,” he said. “I wanted to be there in person when the green jacket—for the fifth time—was placed on his shoulders, because I thought it was something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
This whole spring has been one to remember for McManus and his CBS team. Starting with Tony Romo’s breakout during the Patriots’ overtime AFC title victory, the network has aired a string of notable championships. New England extended its dynasty. Virginia came back from the worst tournament upset of all time to win it all in overtime this year. Then there was the Masters—"The best story I’ve ever covered in 34 years,” says Jim Nantz, who called the trio of mega-events 12 years after becoming the first to do so.
“This is unquestionably one of the great cases of serendipity when it comes to scheduling that I’ve ever seen [in] the sports broadcasting world,” he said. “It makes me wonder what is in the script for [the PGA Championship].... The first four-and-a-half months of the sports calendar year really belong to CBS Sports and this is part four.”
Along the way, the stretch has highlighted how important sports have become to a CBS Corporation in transition. This February, McManus made his debut on the company’s quarterly earnings call with Wall Street. During the Q1 call this month, sports mentions were up (to use analyst-speak) 100% over a year ago, 20 vs. 10. On Wednesday, Nantz, Romo, and Tracy Wolfson kicked off the entire company’s presentation to potential advertisers, with the two booth men noting that CBS has a “new head coach,” a reference to acting CEO Joe Ianniello, who recently had his tenure extended.
Ousted CEO Leslie Moonves “loved sports and was always involved in it,” McManus said, “but Joe is equally involved.” Ianniello is already helping the company work towards renewing SEC football rights before 2023 and locking in NFL games for another decade. Ratings fell for each of CBS’s championship broadcasts this year compared to the last time the network aired them (partly due to rescheduling in the case of the Masters), but live events remain strong compared to the rest of what’s on television. “Sports is going to be increasingly more important to the CBS Corporation each and every month,” McManus said.
Planning for this spring started over a year ago, when McManus gathered leaders from across the company in the boardroom on the 35th floor of CBS’s midtown New York Black Rock building, the site of drama for decades, for a Super Bowl meeting. “It's probably the only meeting at CBS we have where everybody from the company in every single area is represented,” McManus said.
But not everything has gone to plan during this run. Days before the Final Four, the AAF folded. What would have been the network’s fifth championship presentation was off. McManus said CBS was aware of potential issues a week before the news came out. “It’s a shame,” he said. “I was sad about that one, because I got to know [AAF CEO Charlie Ebersol] very well. He's a very creative executive with a really good sense of creating a good product.” Conversations had already started about having more primetime Saturday games in 2020. Instead, CBS wound up being the second largest creditor following the league’s bankruptcy filing, claiming $5 million, largely for future airtime. The network was compensated for each of the slots the AAF did fill before going under, though, McManus said.
There’s plenty more sports on the horizon for CBS after this weekend, including more PGA Tour events as well as WNBA and Big 3 basketball action following recent deals. In two years, they’ll even have the same Super Bowl-to-Madness-to-Masters sequence again, thanks to a Super Swap with NBC. Still, it might never again have a run like this one.
CATCHING UP WITH THE TIGER TRACKER
Tiger Woods returns to competition for the first time since the Masters, and with him comes the Tiger Tracker, a seven-year-old account started to keep tabs on the sport’s leading figure, but which has turned into much more than that, with nearly 400,000 followers and a clear sense of personality. Run anonymously, here’s what the Tiger Tracker had to say about watching the Masters and what comes next.
SI: What is the tracker's origin story, and how did it end up as part of Golf Channel?
TT: The account was started seven years ago (March 2012) as a quick, easy way to get Tiger Woods information onto our website at GolfChannel.com. It was never intended to be what it’s become, although I’m thrilled at where we are now. Tiger is such a huge force in golf that people grabbed on and made the account a huge success in a very short time.
SI: Why have you chosen to stay anonymous? Is it to allow yourself to express your fandom while working in media?
TT: Like the above answer, it was never something that was intended. Quickly my responses were made up of people wanting to know more and more. And the more people asked, the more it seemed like fun to keep everyone in the dark. Now, I find it comical that many people think they know who I am but, in all reality, don’t have a clue. My coworkers get hounded all the time. People take photos of random dudes walking inside the ropes and think it’s me. It’s turned into one big funny game. And it’s hilarious.
SI: With the benefit of some hindsight, would you still say Tiger's Masters victory is "the greatest day of my life"?
TT: It’s a close second, just behind the day I was born. But, yes, it was remarkable. I still simply cannot believe that in 2019, at 43, 11 years after his last major, he found a way to win another green jacket at the place that means the most to him. It’s tremendous. I’ve watched his celebration every single day since.
SI: How much of TT is a character? Do you consider yourself a fan or a reporter when using that pseudonym?
TT: I’ve always told people that I’m a tracker. Not a reporter, not a fan, but a tracker—meaning that I watch every shot he hits, tweet about it and provide a little bit of humor, color and background. Now, when he plays poorly, I’m not in as good of a mood and it’s not a quite as fun. There were plenty of those days over the past few years. But the wins are more fun than you could possibly imagine. And the Masters win was next-level stuff. The account went to places I never dreamed. It was impossible not to just geek-out over everything Tiger for as long as I possibly could. No matter what I did, engagement was off the charts.
SI: What is your daily routine when Tiger isn't playing?
TT: I sleep. A lot. I play golf. Not all the time, but enough. I mean, Tiger only plays 16-18 times a year so there is plenty of time to swat it around the lot. I was scratch at one point, but those days are behind me. I play to a 4 handicap now and can still take money off my playing partners more often than not.
SI: Does Tiger know about you or the account?
TT: Yes, he knows. Trust me, he knows. And all those in his camp know too. He’s mentioned me in press conferences before.
SI: What was your goal starting TT, and what's the goal now?
TT: There was no real goal to start so everything now is gravy. Weird, but true. There’s a part of me that is surprised I’ve reached nearly 400K followers, but then there’s a part of me that’s surprised it isn’t much, much higher than that. I mean, Tiger Woods did just win the Masters. But I’m proud of how it’s evolved and I’m thrilled with how people have responded. We’re a dysfunctional family of 400,000 people and we’re all happy for each other when things go well. It’s endearing.
• It’s been a big week for sports media companies entering the gambling space, one year after the industry-altering Supreme Court ruling. A new ESPN studio is coming to Las Vegas next year. Bleacher Report gaming content is due this summer. And Patriots executive Jonathan Kraft reportedly said betting-focused NFL broadcasts could be around the corner. According to a new study from The Action Network, over 80% of fans would place bets on the NBA, NFL, and MLB. Meanwhile, Jen Booton took a close look the Vegas Stats & Information Network.
• Louisa Thomas’s interview with Jackie MacMullan is full of gold.
• Putting top games in the noon window, FOX will strengthen its new pregame show and try to claim the first portion of each college football Saturday.
• ESPN held its first ever collegiate esports championship last weekend. In the most viewed event on its Twitch stream, Harrisburg University took the Overwatch title.
• A record 2.2 million Americans watched the Premier League on its final matchday Sunday, with NBC’s total viewership increasing 19% over last year.
• Bryan Curtis dove into sportscasters’ love for Howard Stern.
• Nearing launch, the ACC Network announced part of its schedule Wednesday and welcomed a handful of new voices, including Mark Herzlich, a former All-American at Boston College.
• Take this how you will: Steve Levy is replacing Beth Mowins on ESPN’s second Monday Night Football team for an opening week contest between the Broncos and Raiders. Louis Riddick and Brian Griese will also call the game, with Laura Rutledge handling sideline reporter duties.
• Say goodbye to ESPN analyst Darren Woodson, who is leaving the industry to fulfill every media member’s dream of working in real estate.
THANK YOU, INTERNET…
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