SBJ/November 5-11, 2012/Opinion

Management insights from McManus

There is a reason Sean McManus is one of the most well-liked executives in sports: He’s intelligent, kind, and humble — qualities not always seen among today’s top CEOs. As you’ll read in The Sit-Down (Page 34), he also has great perspective. There were so many interesting ideas and anecdotes he offered during my recent interview with him in his office on 52nd Street in New York City that I wanted to share additional outtakes with you.

McManus Unplugged:
“I try to have an informal but professional atmosphere here. And I really try to find the right mix between collaboration and accountability. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

“I like to be challenged by staff in a pretty respectful way. I made it very clear that if someone disagrees with me, even in a large group, they’re certainly free to express that and they usually do. But they do it in a very respectful way, as they should. If I were challenged in a way that I thought was not appropriate in that meeting, I wouldn’t appreciate that, because I think there’s a certain decorum that you show your boss. I show my boss a certain decorum, and if there’s something that I really disagreed with him on, I’m unlikely to do that in one of his staff meetings.”

“The most difficult element of managing people is when you have someone who is not doing the job: the delicate balance between informing them that they’re not doing the job and, if it doesn’t get better, informing them that they are no longer an employee. Once you get into anything that’s emotional or even too personal, then it’s problematic. So you have to be, unfortunately, relatively cold and calculated. But it’s never easy. I’ve been very, very lucky that it’s happened to me very, very few times in my sports career. ”

“I try to inject humor into our staff meeting. Any staff meeting gets very dry after a while when people are just giving a report. So I try to mix things up, and I know certain people who I have a good rapport with who I know that if I engage them in a humorous way, it’s going to result in some pretty good humor. If staff meetings aren’t something people are looking forward to attending, then you’re doing something wrong at your staff meeting.”

> TAKEAWAY FROM THE WORLD SERIES: There was a lot of talk last week about the World Series’ final four-game rating of a 7.6, which marks the smallest audience for any World Series on record. There were a few factors that contributed to the number: a four-game sweep was the biggest, as well as the lack of the major “national” teams. But this shows that baseball needs help with its national — and younger — viewers. The game is a much stronger local TV property. Just look at the trend of the national numbers on Fox, ESPN and TBS and compare them to some of the strong local numbers. Like other sports, baseball has trouble keeping local fans engaged if their team is not playing in the playoffs. The positives are that Fox won all four nights it showed the Series, and it’s further proof of the strong work that Tim Brosnan did in more than doubling MLB’s national rights fee.

> THE LAZARUS STRATEGY: Mark Lazarus has talked often about a slow, methodical plan to build NBC Sports Network, and it’s now clear that he is counting on that growth to come, in part, from soccer — first aligning with MLS and then last week’s surprise deal for the EPL. Since the Comcast acquisition, NBC Sports Network has struggled to find an audience, and it’s obvious that the channel needs more live sports programming on its schedule.  The only way it can take programming like the EPL from incumbents is to, according to some, overpay for it. NBC tripled the current rights fee to EPL, a move that is a gamble by Lazarus but fits into his strategy of betting on soccer and international sports, with EPL now joining Formula One and, of course, the network’s Olympic coverage. The EPL provides a smattering of weekend games early in the morning, but the property is on a solid upward trend in the U.S. in terms of interest and coverage (note the 4,000-word piece on Chelsea’s John Terry in a recent issue of the Sunday New York Times). If you believe the talking points coming out of MLS and soccer advocates about this developing “soccer nation” in the U.S., then NBC Sports Network wants to aggressively exploit that niche.

It was also notable that Lazarus took a shot at Major League Baseball in saying that the EPL is “a younger skewing sport than some others out there, like some that are in a championship series right now.”

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.
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