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SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40
Published March 20, 2006
By Daniel Kaplan
• Age: 34
• Title: Senior vice president, distribution sales and marketing
• Network: NFL Network
• Education: B.A., economics and math, Yale University, 1993 (magna cum laude)
• Family: Single
• Career: Began career with Boston Consulting Group from 1993-1995; moved to Fox Television in 1996 and to Fox Sports Net from 1997-1999; worked for Fox Cable Networks from 1999-2001 and then the Fox-owned FX from 2001-2003; hired by the NFL Network in June 2003.
• Last vacation: Drove a Jeep from Mexico down to the Keys of Belize
• Last book read: "Freakonomics" by Steven Levitt
• Last movie seen: "Brokeback Mountain"
• Pet peeve: When people say "Between you and I …"
• Greatest achievement: Helping the NFL Network secure the Thursday/Saturday game package after only two years on the air
• Greatest disappointment: My beloved Detroit Lions
• Business advice: When assessing new employment opportunities, the single most important factor is who you will work for. Finding a mentor is infinitely more relevant to achieving success than securing a good salary or title.
Adam Shaw had a major decision a year ago. He could stay with the nascent NFL Network as senior vice president of distribution, or help start an Internet ad sales company a friend was launching.
The concept for the company, Spot Runner, was actually Shaw's, so even though he chose to stay at NFL Network, he received a small equity slice of less than 10 percent. Some days, though, he admits he thinks of what might have been.
"Based on [Spot Runner's] most recent valuation, I could retire and buy a plane" had I joined the company, Shaw said. "For some reason I don't regret it. I absolutely love what I am doing."
What he has done is to help make the NFL Network one of the best distributed startups in cable. The channel is in more than 40 million homes, and likely will surge past that level now that the NFL has sold eight regular-season games to its offspring.
In his post, Shaw has negotiated more than 110 distribution deals, including with industry leaders like Comcast and EchoStar's DirectTV.
His challenge, though, is clear: New York. Both Cablevision and Time Warner Cable, which dominate the country's largest media market, have thus far declined to carry the two-year-old channel, which televises a mix of original programming and archival shows.
Time Warner has been pushing sports tiers, the grouping of different sports channels for which consumers pay extra. The cable company had expected the NFL Network would anchor its sports tier, Shaw said, but the NFL will not allow its channel to be sold that way.
"My parents live in New York, a lot of Madison Avenue is there, and it is a very frustrating market we have been unable to get into," he said.
Shaw hopes the success other distributors have had with the network, using it as a marketing platform to lure new customers, will persuade the New York cable operators to relent.
Shaw grew up in New York. He later attended Yale, where he played on the football team. He knew early on that he wanted to get into sports cable, joining Boston Consulting out of college on the promise that he would work in media.
There he helped with the creation of cable channel Children's TV Workshop. From there it was on to Fox Sports, where he helped launch the series of regional sports channels that have helped make that company such a power in the business.
Jeff Shell, today president of Comcast's programming group, hired Shaw at Fox and remembers him as an independent and smart individual — and a little off the beaten track, too.
After Boston Consulting, Shaw had taken some time off to teach tennis at a Club Med in the Caribbean, Shell recalled. To interview him, Shell had to call a pay phone on the island at a specific time, as it was the only one Shaw had access to.
"He definitely is not your standard kind of button-downed, analytical finance guy," Shell said.