SBJ/March 6-12, 2017/Champions

Champions 2017: ‘It’s in his DNA’

Ed Goren turned deep love of sports into TV greatness

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Ed Goren is surrounded by his love of sports, including a 1954 photo that shows a 10-year-old Goren (framed photo below, at left) and his brother Allan with MLB great Jackie Robinson.
Photos by: TONY FLOREZ PHOTOGRAPHY


The photo is classic 1950s Americana — two young boys sandwiching their big-league baseball hero. Only there’s more to it.

The year is 1954 and the player is No. 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, MLB groundbreaker Jackie Robinson. One of the boys is a 10-year-old Ed Goren, who would go on to be one of the most successful sports television executives, winner of 47 Emmy Awards.

The image captures greatness, professionalism, innocence, potential, a love of sports — all the things that define Goren’s five-decade career in the television business.

Ask any of Goren’s longtime colleagues about what kind of producer and executive he was, and talk eventually works its way to that photo, which spent decades prominently displayed in his office. For the people who know him best, the picture of Goren and his brother Allan best illustrates the deep love that Goren has for sports — a love that came through both in his work on screen and when he would negotiate for the broadcasting rights to sports events.

THE CHAMPIONS

This is the third installment in the series of profiles of the 2017 class of The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business. This year’s honorees and the issues in which they were featured are:

Feb. 6: Larry Levy
Feb. 20: DeLoss Dodds
March 6: Ed Goren
March 20: Janet Marie Smith
March 27: George Raveling
April 3: Bill Giles
“The snapshot is who he is,” said Jim Nantz, who Goren plucked from a Salt Lake City station to host a national college football show for CBS Sports in 1985. “He never let go of the little boy who is in that picture meeting his hero. He never lost that.”

Seemingly everyone who has worked with Goren uses similar words to describe him: A lover of sports who always strove to grow the business.

“It’s in his DNA — the deep love that he has for sports, especially baseball, is intertwined with his very being,” said David Hill, the former Fox Sports chairman who hired Goren away from CBS in 1994. “He loves sports, which is not a facile thing at all. It goes to his very core.”

“He’s a guy who loves baseball, grew up around baseball,” echoed former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones described him as “a friend and a trusted adviser” when he brought up Goren’s love of sports.

“Over the years, I’ve often asked Ed for advice,” Jones said. “As the head of the NFL broadcasting committee, I have trusted Ed to get a feel for the marketplace.”

A sports fan from his youngest days — he can talk for hours about the Brooklyn Dodgers — Goren was able to parlay that love into a career that has seen him become one of the most decorated producers in sports television. Goren amassed his Emmy Awards while at CBS and Fox, and he produced the country’s biggest sporting events, from Super Bowls and World Series games, to BCS Championships, Stanley Cup Finals and Daytona 500s.

In many respects, Goren was destined for sports TV greatness.

His father, Herb, was “one of the giants of the New York sports scene,” according to Hill. Herb Goren covered the Brooklyn Dodgers for the New York Sun, and later became the New York Rangers’ PR director. He always was willing to bring his son into the middle of the action. It was through his father’s work that Ed and his brother got to meet Robinson. Ironically, it was Herb’s advice in 1966, when he told his sports-loving son to branch out beyond sports, that Goren credits for propelling his career.

Goren was graduating from Syracuse and wanted to follow other alums like Marv Albert and Dick Stockton into broadcasting. On the day of his graduation, his father gave him a different perspective.

“He said, ‘I know you know sports. But before you do that, why don’t you get a job in news and learn how to tell a story. Learn what a story is about,’” Goren recalled.

Goren took his dad’s advice and took a job as a copy boy at CBS News, eventually moving to Miami to produce news stories for the local CBS affiliate, WTVJ. Goren enjoyed the work but always knew he wanted to end up back in sports.

“I don’t even know if my father realized what he was saying to me,” Goren said. “Some of the great broadcasters are great storytellers and they weave it through a broadcast. But the years that I worked in news and did news pieces were invaluable all the way through to the end. Those were great times.”



BACK TO SPORTS

It took nine years, but Goren finally made it to CBS Sports in 1975, accepting a job as coordinating producer of the anthology series “CBS Sports Spectacular.” The job had Goren traveling the world, producing everything from a basketball game in China to a boxing match in New Mexico with Ed “Too Tall” Jones of the Cowboys.

CBS executives recognized Goren’s talent, and his career progressed. CBS eventually put Goren on bigger events, producing NFL and NBA games. In 1990, he was promoted to senior producer, and his future seemed bright — and secure — at CBS, which at the time held the rights to the NFL, MLB and the Olympics.

Then, in 1992, Goren’s boss, Ted Shaker, left. A year later, the network lost its MLB and NFL contracts. The Olympics were soon to leave, too.

Before the NFL left CBS for Fox, Goren thought he was in line to replace Shaker as executive producer, which would have tied him to CBS for several years. CBS instead promoted Rick Gentile, freeing Goren up to interview with Fox, an upstart network that was looking to build out a sports division.

Funded by Rupert Murdoch, Fox outbid CBS for the NFL’s NFC package by a whopping $100 million in 1993. Two years later, Fox would pick up an MLB package. Fox was a newcomer to the sports scene, but the long-term deals combined with Murdoch’s backing made the executive producer position at Fox Sports a desirable one at the time.

Newly appointed as Fox’s executive producer, Goren jokes with Jimmy Johnson in 1994.
Photo by: AP IMAGES


In 1994, soon after Fox completed its NFL deal, the network’s sports division hired Goren as its first executive producer.

“Sometimes in life, you can look back at some of your worst moments that you felt at the time and you go, ‘God, I was lucky,’” Goren said. “As luck would have it, my contract expired in January 1994. Had I gotten the executive producer job (at CBS), I would have been in the middle of a long-term deal and never would have been able to go to Fox.”

Fox executives were drawn to Goren because “he was a sports fan, and he was a wonderfully decent person,” said Hill, who credited Goren’s deep sports TV knowledge and relationships with helping the network’s fledgling sports department staff up with high-quality people.

“He knew everyone,” Hill said. “He knew their strengths and weaknesses. The staff we put together in 1994 was largely from Ed’s Rolodex.”

Goren also turned his attention to the on-air product, which he produced with the passion of an avid fan. Selig described Goren as somebody who “knew what it would take to help bring the sport into the 21st century.” Jones said he trusted Goren “to look out for our best interests.”

“There wasn’t anyone in TV who had the passion for pure-play sports as Ed,” said Tim Brosnan, who ran MLB’s baseball operations until 2015. “Deep down inside, this was a guy who loved the play on the field.”

As Goren built Fox Sports’ on-air staff, he took fliers on several on-air personalities who still have major roles today in sports media. Goren decided to complement veteran announcers Pat Summerall and Dick Stockton with a group of young play-by-play guys: Joe Buck, Kenny Albert, Thom Brennaman and Kevin Harlan.

“They referred to themselves back then as the lucky sperm club,” Goren said with a laugh, since the fathers of Buck, Albert and Brennaman were well-known broadcasters and the father of Harlan worked for the Packers.

In fact, it was Buck’s mother who helped her son get noticed. At the 1994 Super Bowl in Atlanta, Carol Buck handed Goren a VHS tape of Joe’s work and asked him to look at it.

“My wife Patty turns to her and says, ‘If he expects any action tonight, he’ll have to watch your tape first,’” Goren said with a chuckle.

BACKROOM DEALING

Goren’s role at Fox dealt with more than hiring talent and producing games. For the first time, his new role had him at the negotiating table trying to win sports rights packages.

Goren admitted that he carried some baggage into these negotiations while with Fox. It was Goren’s time at CBS that caused him to carry a special responsibility during Fox’s contract negotiations.

“At CBS, I saw what happens when you lose the NBA, when you lose baseball, when you lose the NFL,” Goren said. “When a rights package goes to another network, it doesn’t mean that all the people who had been working on that series are going to get jobs at the new network. At CBS, we lost a lot of people who we had to let go. … I had that history. I didn’t want that to happen to Fox.”

Executives such as Jerry Jones, the NFL’s Roger Goodell and Fox’s David Hill (below) were drawn to Goren’s personality.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


Goren said he is proud of the fact that Fox only lost two properties while he was there: the NHL and the BCS.

Typically, Goren found himself in a negotiation like the one he had with MLB in 2012, when he negotiated inside Fox to come up with enough money to secure the rights. As he said, “Sometimes, you have to negotiate around your own company.”

In 2012, the cost of sports rights had been taking off. Four years earlier, ESPN outbid Fox by $100 million over four years to secure the BCS. With Turner, ESPN and NBC kicking the tires on MLB rights, Goren wanted to make sure that Fox kept its MLB package.

Before the negotiations started in earnest, Goren reached out to Brosnan and asked about the possibility of increasing the number of Saturday games Fox carried from 18 to 26. Brosnan was open to the suggestion. Goren than called Fox Sports’ top ad sales executive, Neal Mulcahy, to find out how much ad sales revenue he could get from those games. Mulcahy said it would come to about $1 million per game.

“So now I’ve got about $8 million more in my pocket,” Goren said. “We go into the negotiation with [Fox Networks Group chairman and CEO] Tony Vinciquerra, and we’re not getting anywhere. I haven’t played my card yet.”

At a break in the negotiations, Goren tells Vinciquerra of ad sales’ confidence that the extra games would bring in $8 million in added revenue.

“We go back in and put it on the table, and Brosnan tries not to laugh too hard as he says, ‘If that’s what it takes to close the deal, you guys have it,’” Goren said.

Brosnan added: “The role Ed played in the baseball negotiations, he was the ultimate back channel. His goal was to make sure that Fox kept the robust sports offering it had.”

That, ultimately, is one of Goren’s legacies. Whether he was operating as a producer in a high-pressure environment or an executive in a high-stakes negotiation, Goren remained a fan, working to grow the sport and the TV business while earning respect from all sides.

“He’s just a lovely, lovely guy,” Hill said. “He’s concerned about the world. He’s unbelievably honest and honorable. He’s a straight-up gentleman.”

Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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