An insider account of how and why a little cable company in Bristol, Connecticut, became “The Worldwide Leader in Sports.”
Hired in 1981 as ESPN employee No. 150, Bodenheimer started out delivering mail and driving on-air talent like Dick Vitale to the airport. By 1998, he was president of the company. Because his professional rise synchronizes almost perfectly with the astonishing growth of ESPN, this professional memoir serves not only as a management guide, but also as a broad-brush history of the company. From his early days as an account executive selling and marketing ESPN to affiliates in the Southwest (“…we’ll carry it because…this is a sports town”) to his last as the company’s executive chairman, Bodenheimer helped feed the country’s apparently bottomless appetite for sports, peddling the network’s unprecedented 24/7 blend of event programming, journalism, and entertainment. From identifying a market for televising the likes of the America’s Cup, the Indy Time Trials, the NFL Draft, and the World Series of Poker to packaging previously obscure sports like the X-Games to providing “punch-through” programming like the NFL on cable, ESPN got there first and, by staying true to its brand and mission, transformed itself into a multimedia, global behemoth. Although Bodenheimer confesses to a few of the company’s miscalculations and mildly criticizes exactly two people, this relentlessly upbeat account consists largely of bouquets tossed to those responsible for the programming milestones, mentors and fellow executives, and various on-air talents whose reports contain a powerful source of social currency and whose catchphrases have become part of the national vocabulary. With the help of Phillips, Bodenheimer scatters management advice throughout—about branding, setting priorities, handling people—that convinces, if only because of the company’s outstanding success.
A breezy, bloodless take on a corporate story more colorfully recounted elsewhere.