SBJ/Nov. 4-10, 2013/Media

Hall of Fame inductee Steve Bornstein spins a good yarn

John Ourand
When the NFL’s top media executive, Steve Bornstein, was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame last week, he retold a funny story from when he hired John Walsh at ESPN.
At the time, Walsh was well-known in journalism circles, having been managing editor for both U.S. News & World Report and Rolling Stone, and the founding editor of Inside Sports magazine. His hiring was a coup for ESPN, which then was less than a decade old.

I’ve heard this story several times over the years, and it always makes me smile. Here’s an edited version of Bornstein’s remarks:

Photo by: AP IMAGES
“It’s 1988 in Bristol, Conn., and we’ve decided to bring in John as managing editor of ESPN after he had consulted with me for several months.

“We had a plan to bring him into Bristol and introduce him to the newsroom with an all-hands meeting. But before we can do so, we needed to take care of a little house-cleaning detail. I had to inform the then-current managing editor at ESPN that he is out of a job on that Monday morning.

“On Sunday, we fly John into Connecticut and put him up at the Farmington Marriott — to keep him out of sight. Otherwise we would
Bornstein (top) looks back
with laughter at finding John Walsh in 1988.
Photo by: RICH ARDEN / ESPN
have just put him up across the street at the Holiday Inn or the Radisson Hotel.

“Monday morning rolls around, and we send over someone from the mail room to pick up John and bring him back to ESPN. Before he leaves for the Marriott, the mail-room employee asks how he will recognize John.

“I said, ‘That’s easy. John will be waiting for you in the lobby. He has white hair, a white beard and is a dead ringer for Santa Claus. In fact, he’s an albino.’

“So off he goes to pick up John.

“I get a frantic call from the mail-room driver who at this point has made his way to the Farmington Marriott. He couldn’t find John.

“I found this nearly impossible to believe until I hear this: It turns out the Farmington Marriott was hosting the annual meeting of The National Organization for Albinism.

“The Marriott lobby is crawling with albinos, making John not nearly as recognizable as he normally would be. Fortunately, after a little searching, John was located and in the car headed back to Bristol.

“John is still there today as the executive vice president and executive editor, and has been a big part of the success of the company.

“I tell that story not only for a laugh, but because it cuts to the heart of one of my guiding management principles: Do whatever it takes to hire the right people, the smartest people, the most motivated people, the people with the most integrity, and give them the tools to do their job and then get out of their way.

“I’d like to think I did that with John and a number of other executives at ESPN, ABC and the NFL who have left big marks on the companies that I’m really proud of.”

> THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT: I saw something in the most recent cable distribution report that was shocking. According to Nielsen’s November report, ESPN2 is available in 37,000 more U.S. homes than ESPN. The report has ESPN2 in 97.407 million homes and ESPN in 97.370 million.

Are there really homes that get ESPN2 and not ESPN? I called ESPN to find out, and they said the Nielsen numbers are not accurate.

ESPN’s statement: “We know from internal data that there are more ESPN homes than ESPN2 homes. We believe that there is a small number of misclassified homes that has led to this anomaly in Nielsen reporting and we are working with them to rectify the situation for their December coverage estimates. This in no way affects Nielsen reporting of our audiences during the month of November — Nielsen reports all viewing to cable networks regardless of whether a home is classified as a subscriber or not.”

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

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