SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Forty Under 40

Neal Tiles

Neal Tiles this year continued to solidify his reputation as a television executive with a knack for daring ad campaigns that make people laugh.

So it is noteworthy that for David Hill, chairman and CEO of Fox Sports Television Group, Tiles' greatest achievement during the last 12 months was to add gravity to a traditionally light-hearted and meaningless event.

Tiles, Fox Sports' executive vice president of marketing and promotion, was the brains behind the "This Time It Counts" campaign, the product of a joint effort by Fox and Major League Baseball to convert the All-Star Game's format so that the winning league would receive home-field advantage during the World Series.

The result was that unlike most All-Star Games, for which the ratings start out high and tail off as the meaningless game goes on, the ratings built as the game continued, according to Hill.

"[That] meant the message had totally gotten through to the fans — which leads me to believe ratings for subsequent All-Star Games will continue to improve — which is a huge feat," Hill said.

Not that Fox viewers did not get their share of laughs, as Tiles unveiled a string of campaigns that lived up to the award-winning standard the executive has set.

For one, there was the NBA campaign that featured fans of opposing NBA teams being singled out by a higher power, getting pelted with hail, blown off the ground by wind and struck by lightning.

There also was the $2 million campaign to promote NASCAR around the Daytona 500. The ads tracked the family lineage of some of the drivers, linking their need for speed to aspects of their upbringing.

More recently, Fox Sports launched a campaign to promote the NHL season in which hockey fans are shown getting tougher as the season progresses. In one of the spots, which are tailored to all the Fox Sports Net markets to promote the network's regional NHL broadcasts, a Pittsburgh Penguins fan is shown withstanding the pain of a back-waxing at the beginning of the season, a dart to the neck at game 14 and a trash bin slamming on his head at game 47. The ad ends with, "The more Penguins games you watch, the tougher you get."

Tiles said he tried in the network's promotions to better tap his inner sports fan, incorporating an understanding of what distinguishes fans of different sports.

For example, the campaign promoting "54321," the nightly news show surrounding extreme sports, centers on the substantial role of peer pressure among fans and participants of these sports. In one ad, a surfer wearing a bright green wetsuit and scuba mask paddles out to join a group of much more experienced surfers. The ad ends with "Don't be that guy. The show that brings you inside the world of extreme sports."

For its NFL broadcasts, Fox expanded beyond promoting the pregame show and this year ran promos touting the relative wealth of intriguing story lines in the NFC.

"The [promos] that everyone likes to talk about are the ones that are funny," Tiles said. "But there are also a bunch of things that I'm equally proud of, the ones not meant to make anyone laugh or crack up, but tap into the emotions that sports fans have about the games they love."

Tiles is overseeing a transition at Fox Sports that will reach fruition over the next two to three months. The network, hoping to better tout its local advantage over rival and industry behemoth ESPN, will be giving more freedom and autonomy to its regional networks, Tiles said.

Whereas the Los Angeles office was responsible for cutting 5,000 to 6,000 promotions annually, the central office will establish a template and the basic tone of each promo, and each regional network will localize it.

"Neal's ongoing campaign to totally define FSN's regionality in the viewer's mind is most certainly paying dividends," Hill said.

With so many memorable campaigns, Tiles cannot point to a singular professional accomplishment he's most proud of.

Personally, however, there is a day that stands out for Tiles as particularly triumphant. On April 7, shortly after the Syracuse University graduate watched his beloved Orangemen upset Kansas for the NCAA basketball title, he saw his wife give birth to the couple's first child, a daughter.

Despite his pleas for Carmela McNamara Tiles, in honor of the team's two star players, Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara, Tiles lost out in favor of Sarah.

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