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Published March 8, 2010
In January, the same week Eric Shanks started overseeing DirecTV’s three regional sports networks, he received a call from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
FSN Pittsburgh, one of three regional sports networks that Shanks oversees, had withheld replays that would have showed the Flyers scoring a disputed goal against the Penguins. The goal was not allowed, and Bettman was calling Shanks to find out what happened.
For Shanks, the call represented another in an ever-expanding list of responsibilities the executive has taken on during his DirecTV career.
Programming? That’s on Shanks. (And everyone refers to him as Shanks; some longtime friends have trouble remembering that his first name is Eric.) He’s the executive primarily responsible for buying Dan Patrick’s radio show and simulcasting it on The 101. Similarly, he plucked the NBC series “Friday Night Lights” — which has a small but devoted audience — for The 101, too. And he’s looking around for more. In the two months that he’s overseen DirecTV’s three RSNs, he’s approved two rights deals extensions, one with the Jazz and another not yet made public.
Ad sales? That’s under Shanks, too. He has overseen it since he arrived at DirecTV in 2004. After deciding to bring sales in-house for the two minutes an hour that DirecTV is allowed to sell across every channel, he saw almost immediate results. Revenue grew threefold. He had particular success this winter with an Olympic ad sales package.
Shanks’ multiple responsibilities were evident last month in Miami. On the Friday night before the Super Bowl, Shanks dined in a South Beach steakhouse with the crew of Patrick’s show to celebrate a successful run of Super Bowl week shows. The former head of a national online sports site and a reporter also attended the dinner. Once it ended, Shanks put on another one of his hats and made his way to another DirecTV-sponsored event for affiliates.
“Shanks is an innovative dealmaker willing to take chances,” said Ray Hopkins, chief operating officer of YES Network. “He gets things done. One of the most highly respected DirecTV executives.”
This marks the third time Shanks has made this list, meaning that he is entering the Forty Under 40 Hall of Fame. In the past, he was recognized for his outsized reputation for staying a step or two (or four) ahead of the competition with new technologies and new revenue streams.
That hasn’t changed.
Given responsibility of NFL Sunday Ticket, Shanks decided to launch DirecTV’s Red Zone Channel in 2005, four years before NFL Network rolled out its version. He’s already launched the service on cell phones, something the NFL plans to do next season.
Shanks pushed DirecTV to take more HD content while his cable competitors were focused on video-on-demand, a decision that helped give DirecTV an edge over cable among sports fans.
And he has overseen interactive applications around big sporting events — the Masters, the U.S. Open and Yankees games — that are vastly superior to anything cable has been able to offer.
It was no surprise to see Shanks ahead of the 3-D television curve at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
“In the early days of Fox Sports, it was ingrained in you that you should try new things and always push the envelope,” Shanks said.
Shanks’ mentor, Fox Sports Chairman David Hill, recalled recognizing Shanks’ skills at Fox Sports in the mid-1990s, when Hill promoted the budding executive from John Madden’s football production crew to work with Gary Hartley in the graphics department.
The move infuriated Madden, who called and screamed at Hill, “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re going to ruin that kid’s career!”
According to Hill, Madden grudgingly accepted the move.
“Fifteen years have gone by, and Eric Shanks has just continued to cover himself with accolades with his no-nonsense, common-sense, and people-first approach to life and business,” Hill said. “But, despite all that, I know that deep down John would have loved to have Eric there in the truck with him.”