SBJ/Feb. 7-13, 2011/Media

NBC veterans move in at Comcast cable properties

Comcast may be the one taking over NBC, but in the sports division of the newly forming company, it appears that NBC is king.

Just days after Comcast’s acquisition of NBC became official, longtime NBC executive Dick Ebersol began reshaping Comcast’s cable sports properties, sweeping out many of Comcast’s programming and production executives and installing longtime NBC executives in their stead. Executives who have worked with Ebersol for decades at the broadcast network now will be charged with creating a cable sports power that will compete with ESPN, Fox and Turner for sports rights.

Dick Ebersol (right) named Jon Miller (left) to oversee programming at Versus and NBC Sports.
A strong management team at the cable sports networks is important to Ebersol, who has told SportsBusiness Journal that one of his priorities is to rebrand Comcast’s sports channels, including new names and new logos for Versus and Golf Channel. There’s no word on what those channels will be called, but the changes will not happen immediately and could possibly be pushed into next year.

Later this month, NBC’s telecast of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship will carry an on-screen logo describing NBC’s golf coverage as “Golf Channel on NBC,” Ebersol said. Initially, the channels will not share on-air talent that much; eventually, they will. The executive who will play a big part in making that crossover happen is NBC’s longtime marketing chief John Miller, whom Ebersol last month installed to oversee marketing and promotions at the new group.

Last week, Ebersol set his focus on programming and production. He installed NBC Sports veterans Jon Miller (no relation) and Sam Flood to oversee programming and production, respectively, across both Versus and NBC Sports. Both executives will report to Mark Lazarus, who is president of NBC Sports Cable Group and an executive with years of cable programming experience, stemming from his time running Turner Sports. Jon Litner will oversee both Versus and Comcast SportsNet as president of both groups.

The moves end the 2 1/2-year reign of Jamie Davis as president of Versus. Davis, who joined the channel in September 2008 after a stint as ESPN Star Sports managing director, oversaw growth, including Versus posting a record $60 million in revenue last year. An official release said he will continue to work with Lazarus on strategy and planning for the NBC Sports Cable Group while he looks for other work.

The moves also put an end to the Versus careers of two longtime channel executives. The network’s coordinating producer for NHL games, Mike Baker, and senior vice president/executive producer Leon Schweir were told that they will not be in those roles going forward. It is not known if they will assume other roles within Comcast. On the digital side, Neal Scarbrough, Versus vice president, digital media, also was told that he will not be returning with the network.

Mike McCarley becomes president of Golf Channel.
Ebersol installed one of his closest executives, Mike McCarley, as president of Golf Channel. McCarley, who has run communications and marketing for NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, is a member of Ebersol’s inner circle and has been with NBC since the late 1990s. In September, Page Thompson left Golf Channel, stepping down after a three-year run as president. Like Versus, Golf Channel posted record revenue in 2010 — $100 million, sources said — and that growth trend is expected to continue this year.

In other moves, Ken Schanzer will continue as NBC Sports president. He will become the lead negotiator for all NBC Sports Group partnership agreements. Gary Zenkel will remain NBC Olympics president and executive vice president of strategic partnerships for NBC Sports.

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