SBJ/June 12-18, 2017/Media

Pioneer Turner reflects on the ‘new and different world’ of TV

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Ted Turner no longer has a role in the mass media landscape he dominated for nearly 40 years but many key elements of the modern day sports business still bear imprints of his vast legacy, including the importance of cable television, escalating player salaries, the 24-hour news cycle and Atlanta’s continued standing as a key industry presence.

Turner’s victory in the 1977 America’s Cup and challenging the conventions of sailing with his brash personality are the subjects of a new NBC Sports documentary, “Courageous,” premiering June 17 on NBC. While in New York last week for a preview event for the film, Turner spoke with staff writer Eric Fisher on memories of sailing, the vast changes in the media business, and how he dislikes the Atlanta Braves’ move from Turner Field downtown to suburban Cobb County, Ga.

Former Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner doesn't think much of the team's move to the suburbs.
Photo by:
AP IMAGES


What are your memories of the ’77 America’s Cup?
TURNER:
Winning the race was really good. We had a difficult time in trials. It was more difficult in the trials than in the Cup [final] races. We didn’t win by big margins, a couple of minutes each race. But it was enough. Every race, right at the start or close to the start, we got ahead and stayed ahead.

What did that win and getting on the cover of Sports Illustrated do to accelerate your other endeavors and business career?
TURNER:
It’s hard to tell. I don’t think it hurt. But I don’t think people bought television time from me because I won the America’s Cup. They did it because they thought it was a good buy.

The media landscape obviously is going through huge transformations. What do you make of the business now, and how it’s changed since you left AOL Time Warner?
TURNER: It is different now. I was getting out just as the digital age was coming in, so I’m a traditional person, and I still am. I’m old-fashioned. I don’t even have a cellphone. Not that I’m against them. I borrow them all the time. It’s just that keeping up with everything is so complex and takes a good bit of your time. Two-thirds of the people I see and am trying to have a conversation with are busy playing with their electronic gadgets and it’s hard to make contact.

There’s been a lot of talk in the TV industry about cord cutting and younger consumers not buying traditional cable packages. Does that concern you?
TURNER:
No, because I’m not in it anymore. I’m raising bison now, about 60,000 of them, and have 48 [Ted’s Montana Grill] restaurants. I went to the one here in Manhattan today for lunch, had a great lunch, and it was jam-packed. So I’m making a success out of the restaurant business now. The first 10 years we lost money, and the last five we’ve made money every year.

But for the people in the TV business you mentored and are still coming up behind you, do you fear for them?
TURNER:
No, it’ll be whatever it is. They’ll make whatever changes are necessary to survive in a new world. It is a new and different world. But today’s young people are growing up in that world, so they’re familiar with it. I grew up before that world came and appeared. So I never did get super comfortable with it. But that’s OK.

Shifting gears to the Atlanta Braves, which of course you previously owned, have you been to SunTrust Park?
TURNER:
No.

Do you have plans to go soon?
TURNER:
No.

What do you think of the team moving from downtown to Cobb County?
TURNER:
To me, they’ll always be Atlanta Braves, not the Marietta Braves.

Do you watch the team now?
TURNER:
A little bit, on TV, but not much. But we were really successful with the Braves. We drew well, and we set a record for the most consecutive division championships. They moved to Marietta strictly because they could get money [for the ballpark].

What is a typical week like for you now?
TURNER:
I’m 78 and a half. I’ll be 80 in a year and a half. I’m not keeping the same work schedule. And I have an illness [atrial fibrillation], too, and it’s an exhausting illness. So I don’t have the strength to work in the same way I used to. I’ve cut back some, but I’m there when they need me.


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