SBJ/April 30-May 6, 2012/Media

Original YES executives help shape sports media landscape

John Ourand
The thing I remember most about YES Network’s 2002 launch was how unified the cable industry was in rooting for the channel to fail. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a launch in any industry that was so detested at the outset.

National cable operators did not want it to succeed, worried that it would start a trend and they would wind up spending more on other teams that would break away from their regional sports networks.
One of the biggest local cable operators, Cablevision, did not want the channel to succeed, as it risked the company’s sports monopoly in the country’s biggest media market.

Programmers did not want it to succeed, worried that YES Network’s high cost — it started at about $2 a subscriber per month — would mean less money for other channels.

I covered the launch as a reporter for cable industry trade publication CableFAX Daily and seemed to field daily calls from distributors across the country that had two things in common: They actively rooted against YES Network, and they were anxious to trade information about the negotiations and how they were going.

There are lots of reasons why the channel succeeded in the face of so much opposition. Obviously, YES likely would not have been successful without the strength of the Yankees brand. But in my mind, a big reason for its success comes down to the strength of the executive team at launch, a group that was filled with cable industry veterans who had the resolve to see the channel through.

As YES Network turns 10, it’s interesting to see where that executive team has gone and the roles they have played in setting sports media trends. If YES Network started the trend of team- and league-owned channels, many members of Leo Hindery’s executive team played a big part in shaping the way sports media looks today once they left YES Network.

Hindery led the group at the time as YES Network’s chairman and CEO. He was the most visible executive and proved to be a lightning rod for criticism about the channel. If cable operator executives hated YES Network, they felt betrayed by Hindery, whom they previously had viewed as one of their own. After all, Hindery ran the biggest cable operator in the 1990s, Tele-Communications Inc., where he actively worked to keep programming costs down.

Hindery left the channel in April 2003, soon after it signed a carriage deal with Cablevision. He’s now chairman of InterMedia Partners, a private equity company that invests in sports channels like Magic Johnson’s Aspire, The Sportsman Channel and Universal Sports.

Hindery took a lot of his YES Network team with him to InterMedia, including general counsel Mark Coleman, finance vice president Jerry Letter, executive vice president of operations Craig Fischer and executive vice president of communications Bob Davis.

Others on Hindery’s YES Network team moved to the distributor side, where they have stayed in the middle of the expansion of league- and conference-owned channels that followed YES. Hindery’s top lieutenant at YES was Derek Chang, who has spent the past six years trying to keep programming costs down as executive vice president of content strategy and development for DirecTV. Under Chang’s leadership, DirecTV was the first distributor to cut deals with new networks such as Big Ten Network and MLB Network.

Hindery’s top distribution executive was Matt Bond, who left YES Network late in 2002, before the Cablevision deal was finalized. Bond became executive vice president of programming at the country’s largest cable operator, Comcast, where he led negotiations with programmers and signed carriage deals with NFL Network and Big Ten Network.

Bond is now back on the programming side as executive vice president of content distribution for NBC Universal.

One executive on Bond’s current team is Dana Zimmer, who was senior vice president of distribution at YES Network. She left in 2004, when Comcast hired her to help launch another RSN, SportsNet New York, in the New York market.

Hindery hired David Krone as executive vice president of marketing. He left to become a top lobbyist for the National Cable Telecommunications Association and, later, Comcast. He’s now chief of staff for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

YES Network’s current president, Tracy Dolgin, worked on YES’s behalf in the early years with the investment bank Houlihan Lokey. YES hired him in 2004 as president and CEO.

The guile and fortitude these executives showed at the infancy of YES Network is one reason why so many team- and league-owned sports channels exist today.

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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