SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40

Burke Magnus


By Ryan Basen
Staff writer

Burke Magnus
Age: 39
Titles: Vice president and general manager
Network: ESPNU
Education: Bachelor’s degree, history, Holy Cross, 1988; master’s degree, sport management, University of Massachusetts, 1994
Family: Wife, Colleen; son Burke IV, 6; daughter Quinn, 4
Career: Legal assistant for five years in New York and San Francisco; interned with CBS Sports from 1993-1994; began with ESPN in 1995, holding such titles as program associate, program planner, program manager and director of brand management for men’s college basketball, motorsports and other sports; named to current position in November 2004.
Last vacation: Maui during Thanksgiving
Last book read: “Now I Can Die in Peace” by Bill Simmons, although I’m a Yankees fan
Last movie seen: “Curious George”
Pet peeve: Work-related surprises
Greatest achievement: My family on a personal level; overseeing production on “3,” the ESPN Original Entertainment movie about Dale Earnhardt, on a professional level.
Greatest disappointment: Not being able to continue ESPN’s relationship with NASCAR in 1999
Fantasy job: Owner of the New York Giants
Business advice: When you’re making a deal, it has to work for both sides. Have the vision to look ahead to the next deal, making sure both parties are coming off of a positive experience.

Before his late 20s, Burke Magnus had neither worked a day in sports business nor attended a big-time college football game. Now, as the man in charge of ESPNU, the 39-year-old is a key player in the industry. He has overseen tremendous growth for the network in its first year, and he anticipates much more.

Not bad for somebody who thought he'd go to law school or work on Wall Street.

Magnus traces his entry into the sports business world to a "SportsCenter" segment that aired about a dozen years ago. While working as a legal assistant for Merrill Lynch in San Francisco, he saw a piece about the graduate sport management program at Ohio University, one of the top programs in the field. "I had no idea something like this even existed," he recalled. "It was like an epiphany."

Magnus did some research and enrolled in the University of Massachusetts' sport management program. Attending UMass gave him an inside look at the industry, and an internship with CBS Sports during those same years got him on his way. He landed a job as a program associate with ESPN in 1995 and quickly rose through the organization, being named vice president and general manager of ESPNU shortly before its launch last March.

Magnus finally attended a big-time college football game, at Michigan, a few years ago. And, despite growing up in northern New Jersey as a pro sports fan and attending Holy Cross, a school that garners far from widespread athletic recognition, he has embraced college sports. His creations for ESPN include the annual men's college basketball "Bracket Buster Saturday" and the basketball version of "College Gameday."

For ESPNU, specifically, Magnus has signed deals with five distributors (including DirecTV and Dish Network) and three historically black conferences; initiated original programming such as "Honor Roll" and "Cram Session;" made 24-year-old "Dream Job" winner Mike Hall his cornerstone anchor; and arranged to air more live events, such as U.S. youth soccer teams' games, during the summer.

Magnus also has volunteered ESPNU as a petri dish for new initiatives such as a total Skycam broadcast of a college football game last fall and airing a view from the crowd at a college basketball game in ESPN's initial Full Circle broadcast earlier this month.

Magnus has exceeded expectations in ESPNU's first year, said Chuck Gerber, ESPN's college sports executive vice president, in large part because he has been able to harness many of the factions within the immense ESPN family. The network, which launched in 3 million homes, is now in 8 million. It aired nearly 500 live events in its first full year (only 300 were anticipated), including NCAA championships in several sports.

"He has evolved into a terrific manager," Gerber said. "He's brought creativity, a great business sense and, more than anything, enthusiasm."

Capitalizing on those attributes and ESPNU's early gains will be key for the network's future, especially as it competes against three-year-old College Sports Television, which is in 15 million homes.

"Nobody's going to remember who was first," Magnus said. "They're just going to remember who's best, and we have no doubt that'll be us."

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