SBJ/20090921/Remembering Myles Brand
Media partners: Brand was always learning more about business
Published September 21, 2009
Myles Brand made a big impact on the NCAA’s media partners, even though he never sat across the table from them and formally negotiated a rights deal.
When Brand took over as the NCAA’s president in January 2003, he inherited 11-year deals with CBS and ESPN that were negotiated by his predecessor, Cedric Dempsey.
Both deals end in 2013. But they each give the NCAA an “out clause” after the 2009-10 season.
True to Brand’s nature, none of the media executives contacted for this story knew how he was leaning when it came to exercising that out clause. But they are certain that negotiations would not have become rancorous. That’s because media executives universally described Brand as someone who tried to understand what they needed to do.
That’s not necessarily how media executives first viewed Brand, the first college president to lead the NCAA, as many were concerned that an academic would not be helpful to their business.
Almost immediately, Brand allayed those fears.
“There was some question originally about whether a president from a university would understand the value of the media package for college athletics,” said John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming acquisitions and strategy. “Myles definitely was a huge supporter of college athletes.”
Sean McManus, president of CBS News and CBS Sports, said he felt Brand’s impact immediately. Brand brought a discipline to the NCAA offices that the network appreciated, particularly when it came to making decisions on scheduling or commercials.
“What used to take days and weeks or months took a number of hours many times because Myles gave the people on his team the authority to make the decisions,” McManus said.
McManus recalled the first time he met Brand, soon after Brand was named president. He said Brand looked him in the eye and said that he knew that the relationship between the two companies could only be successful if it was beneficial to both parties.
“The fact that he understood a good deal is only a good deal if it was beneficial to both parties is not normally the first thing a new person in his position would have,” McManus said. “But he was very clear that the CBS relationship was important and that he wanted to work together with us.”
Media executives remembered Brand as a curious learner, someone who always was trying to know their business better. Wildhack talked about a dinner he had with Brand 16 months ago during summer basketball meetings in Newport, R.I. ESPN was telecasting the College World Series at the time, and one of Wildhack’s colleagues showed Brand her PDA, which had one of the games streaming onto it. Brand’s eyes lit up as he watched the game on a handheld device.
“He embraced technology,” Wildhack said. “He embraced new ideas in terms of how to get the NCAA championships and the NCAA brand out there.”
But Brand’s biggest legacy with media executives has little to do with business. They remember the care and attention he gave to students, saying he was constantly trying to figure out how all of the revenue the NCAA brought in could have a positive effect on the universities.
“In his very being, he really believed that they were student athletes and not just entertainers for television,” McManus said. “That was really pervasive throughout his entire approach to his job.”
Former Fox Sports Net President Bob Thompson recognized the same quality during his many meetings with Brand.
“I was always struck by his ability to balance his fundamental beliefs of the place that collegiate athletics held in the university system with the realization that it was also a very big business,” Thompson said. “The reforms he brought about were not only necessary but will be his everlasting legacy.”