SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40

Brian Grey

BRIAN GREY

BY RUSSELL ADAMS
STAFF WRITER

In the summer of 2001, at a time when Yahoo! executives were searching for ways to be less dependent on a battered online advertising market, Yahoo! Sports was a second-tier sports site that barely registered on the collective consciousness of the company.

Brian Grey
• Age: 39
• Title: General manager
Company: Yahoo! Sports
• Education: B.A., economics and mathematics, University of the Pacific, 1990; M.A., economics, UC-Santa Barbara, 1991; MBA, UCLA Anderson School of Management, 1997
• Family: Wife, Paige; daughters Zeli, 5, and Frankie, 2
• Career: Associate, Law & Economics Consulting Group, 1993-1995; scout, Chicago White Sox, 1994-1995; intern, MLB International, 1996; consultant, global sports marketing, Nike, 1997-1998; director of consumer programming on Netcenter, Netscape, 1998-2000; vice president for business development, Shutterfly, 2000-2001; hired as Yahoo! Sports general manager in 2001
• Last vacation: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
• Last book read: "The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco" by Marilyn Chase
• Last movie seen: "Sideways"
• Greatest disappointment: The fall from grace of my Trail Blazers
• Fantasy job: NFL defensive coordinator
• Executive most admired: Dick Ebersol
• Business advice: Prioritize and focus
Since then, Yahoo! Sports has become an industry leader that Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel commonly cites as a model for how the company should leverage its assets and diversify revenue.

Behind the transformation is 39-year-old Brian Grey, who after becoming Yahoo! Sports’ general manager in September 2001 targeted two areas for raising the site’s profile. The first was fantasy sports, where Grey determined Yahoo! Sports could become the dominant fantasy player by giving away the same games everyone else was selling and instead charging for the content on which fantasy participants relied. The second was editorial coverage, where Grey sought to make the site more than a content aggregator.

Yahoo! Sports last year had three times as many fantasy football participants as its next nearest competitor. Its products’ popularity has fueled a successful subscription business and attracted huge sponsorship dollars from companies such as General Motors and Visa. Meantime, a stable of high-profile analysts, such as Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr, has infused the site with an editorial identity.

The result: Yahoo! Sports routinely ranks second only to espn.com in its number of unique monthly visitors, according to data from Nielsen/NetRatings.

That Grey has made a career of delivering sports content to fans comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed him. He has been involved at virtually every level of sports. The son of a high school and college baseball coach, Grey was a pitcher at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., and later a pitching coach at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he earned his master’s degree. Grey also scouted for the Chicago White Sox while working in the San Francisco Bay area as a litigation consultant.

Grey’s true introduction to sports business came after business school when he interned for Rudy Chapa, then Nike’s vice president of global sports marketing. Nike had signed Tiger Woods, and Chapa tapped Grey to figure out what to do with Woods’ and other properties’ Internet and video game rights. Grey determined Nike should sublicense Woods’ video game rights to Electronic Arts.

“I knew he was thinking far more into the future than most people in our industry,” Chapa said. “That was what attracted me to him, and why I was spending so much time with an intern.”

Grey later joined Netscape, where he embarked on a now familiar-sounding job: aggregating content for the Netcenter portal. Grey stayed at Netscape through AOL’s acquisition of the company and into early 2000, when Netscape co-founder Jim Clark hired Grey to manage the business development group at Clark’s new online photo service, Shutterfly.

When a former colleague called in the summer of 2001 to tell Grey that Yahoo! was looking for someone to manage its sports unit, Grey had an easy choice.

“I was itching to get back [into sports],” Grey said. “It’s kind of at the core of my content experience.”

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