SBD/Issue 62/Sports Industrialists

Thinking Back, Looking Ahead With Fox' Jon Nesvig

Fox' Nesvig Retiring After 40+
Year Career In Advertising

After a career that has spanned 40 years, Fox Broadcasting Co. President of Sales and Fox Television Exec VP JON NESVIG is retiring at the end of the year. Having started his career with the ad agency Benton & Bowles in the '60s, Nesvig has seen striking changes in the sales process. Today's sales office, he says, is "eerily silent" with e-mails transmitting rather than phones ringing. Nesvig sat down with SportsBusiness Journal staff writer John Ourand last month to discuss some of the changes he has seen in the media market during the past four decades.

Q: You've been in the business since the mid-1960s. How has the sales process changed?

Nesvig: Relationships are still very important, but it's gotten much more impersonal. It's more data-driven. I used to say that it was a good business for C students. Now, that saying annoys the shit out of me. It is a very complex, demanding business that requires an awful lot of knowledge and insight. Relationships are still important, and having a basis of trust is key. It allows you to do a better job in terms of expanding marketing partnerships. They're so much more complex than just selling spots. While the sale itself is more data-driven, the more interesting part of the sale still depends quite a bit on relationships.

Q: What were sales like in the 1960s?

Nesvig: I started at an agency here in New York in 1967 called Benton & Bowles. The media director at the time was a big-time Columbia basketball fan. For my interview to get the job, I had to take a basic math test and listen to him talk about Columbia basketball for a while. That was a Thursday. He said I could start on Monday. Those days really were the "Mad Men" days in terms of smoking in the office. We usually had a few pops for lunch and a few pops after work.

Q: Do you watch "Mad Men?"

Nesvig: I've seen it. I think it's pretty accurate in terms of the 1960s being sexist and the drinking and smoking. The only thing that I can see that they missed is the noise. We had Monro-Matics, which were mechanical calculators with wheels. The wheels would actually roll when you did your numbers. Ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk. And phones were ringing constantly because the only form of communication was basically by telephone. You walk around here now, and it's sort of eerily silent because you've got electronic communications, and the phones don't ring.

Q: How did you first get involved with the TV business?

Nesvig: I moved out to Los Angeles with ABC Radio. I remember that CLINTON E. FRANK had the Toyota account at the time. They didn't use any radio. And I was pestering the media director so much that when a job opened at NBC, he called the head of West Coast sales at NBC and said, "Why don't you hire this guy and get him off my back."

Q: What do you remember most about working in L.A. during the 1970s?

Nesvig: The first Super Bowl I ever went to was Jan. 9, 1977. It was in Pasadena. I remember that date because I'm a Vikings fan and the Vikings were in there playing against the Raiders. My daughter was born at 5:22 a.m., and I made a 9 a.m. bus to the Super Bowl in Pasadena. My wife said, "There's nothing here. You might as well go."

Nesvig Excited By Opportunity To
Sell Ad Space For Super Bowl

Q: What's it like selling a Super Bowl?

Nesvig: It's exciting. This year has been truly amazing in terms of literally being sold out in advance. It's probably more fun in a down market, but it gets scary. That last unit is probably sold on the bus on Friday afternoon when you're trying to play golf.

Q: Did you feel like an order taker this year?

Nesvig: It wasn't that. In so much of sales, the final step is anticlimactic. There are so many conversations that build up to it. The Super Bowl is an unbelievable property, but the tension in the marketplace is at what price. A lot of the sale is the result of conversations that go on for a long time, guessing what the demand is in setting a price and the scrutiny you get from the consumer and trade press for everything you do.

Q: What's Super Bowl Sunday like for you when you have the game?

Nesvig: If you blow a commercial during the game, there isn't any place to make it up. There is coordination between the sales guys and the production trucks to make sure that everything runs. There's a lot of pressure on the sales guys and the guys in the trucks to do a great job in covering the game but making sure that they don't mess up any of the commercials, either.

Q: What would happen if a game went into overtime?

Nesvig: During one of the Super Bowls, the game was close, and we didn't have any backup. We had the A-B guys with us. We had the Pepsi guys with us. We were asking, "Who's got something? Here we go. We want cash."

Q: When you started your career, could you ever have imagined 30 seconds for $3 million?

Nesvig: When I was selling radio, ABC had four radio networks: ABC Contemporary, ABC Information, ABC Entertainment and ABC FM. The FM network was $200 for a 60-second spot and $150 for a 30-second spot. $3 million was more than a year's sales in those days.

Q: When did money start to flow into sports?

Nesvig: I guess you look for the marketing wars. The first big influx of money was probably the marketing wars when Miller was trying to dethrone Anheuser-Busch [throughout the 1980s].

Q: How involved were you in bringing the NFL to Fox?

Nesvig: From the beginning days of Fox, we talked to the NFL broadcast committee two or three times. In 1993, the other networks were on the cover of Sports Illustrated saying that the prices had to go down. The league was interested in at least having Fox as a stalking horse. We met the league guys and the broadcast committee on a Tuesday morning after a Monday night game in Dallas in 1993. It was sort of a chilly meeting. We were trying to establish our bona fides and tell them how much we could do for them from the marketing side. Finally, [Broncos Owner] PAT BOWLEN turned around and said, "You know, I don't know about these guys, but it's nice to have somebody telling us they want us and think our product's great rather than how much they were losing money on us and didn't want to be with us." That one comment turned that meeting around.

Q: What was the "Nesvig premium" that was part of Fox' first couple of NFL business plans?

Nesvig: We had spent so much money getting JOHN MADDEN, PAT SUMMERALL, TERRY BRADSHAW and the production guys from CBS. [Fox Sports executives] ED GOREN and DAVID HILL were convinced that JIMMY JOHNSON would add a different dimension to the pregame show. [Our finance department] said, "Can you guarantee me, if you pay this amount, that there will be additional sales to have Jimmy?" I said yes. So they put a line in the budget that was called the Jimmy Johnson-Nesvig sales premium.

Q: Your son, TIM, died in 2005 at age 28 from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. How did you turn that into a foundation to raise funds for the City of Hope?

Nesvig: Out of bad things, I guess you hope some good things can come. It has been very gratifying to me and my family that this industry -- our competitors, customers, league partners -- have all gotten behind this. My son worked at ESPN. He died five years ago. We raised $7 million for research. We raised enough money to permanently endow the fellowship. The first golf tournament raised $500,000 to $600,000. The last one netted over $1 million. It just kept growing.

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