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Volume 24 No. 154

People and Pop Culture

The Pac-12 has picked an RSN vet to head up its Pac-12 Networks. MARK SHUKEN, a former Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, Liberty Media and Fox Sports exec, will become the third president in Pac-12 Nets' five-year history, following GARY STEVENSON, who left in '13, and LYDIA MURPHY-STEPHANS, who stepped down in June. "It’s hard to imagine someone who has more experience in this space,” Pac-12 Commissioner LARRY SCOTT said. “He’s worked for distributors like Time Warner Cable and DirecTV, so he certainly understands the mindset, dynamics and culture in those types of companies.” Shuken starts Sept. 6 and will be based in S.F. He will report to Scott, who used JIM CITRIN of exec search firm Spencer Stuart to fill the position. Scott said he started considering Shuken following a referral from a mutual friend, who is a top Fox Sports exec. Scott said he is especially excited at Shuken’s already existing relationships with Pac-12 schools, particularly ones in areas where he has run RSNs, including the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. Shuken left TWC's sports division last fall, a few months after Charter’s $65B acquisition. He walks into a position that has been somewhat of a mixed bag. The one national and six regional channels have fulfilled a promise by producing up to 850 live sporting events each year and has been profitable every year, conference execs say. But the nets have struggled in comparison to similar channels from the Big Ten and SEC -- both from revenue and distribution standpoints -- due to distribution problems. DirecTV has never carried any of the Pac-12 Nets. Ironically, Shuken’s most recent job was overseeing TWC's L.A.-based RSNs, which include Spectrum SportsNet LA, which has its own set of distribution problems and has not convinced DirecTV to carry it.

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE: Scott has his eye on '24, when his conference's media deals are up. "Our newborn phase is over," Scott said. "Now it’s about getting to the next level." Until then, he expects Shuken to grow all aspects of the business, from distribution to marketing to new tech. Shuken will be responsible for cutting deals like the one Pac-12 has with Twitter. He also will be responsible for developing relationships with the relevant media companies that will be looking to bid on sports in '24. "It feels like whoever the major players are going to be, it will emerge by then," Scott said. "A lot of big rights come up right before us." Shuken plans to spend his first 100 days visiting the conference’s campuses and getting to know the presidents and ADs. He also said he is looking to build a culture within the net and "better connect the networks to the conference’s objectives."

Saints and Pelicans Owner TOM BENSON, who turned 90 last month, "isn't slowing down on the business front," according to Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. With the Saints "mired in a cycle of mediocrity" and the Pelicans "struggling even more, Benson and his health have fallen under even greater scrutiny from fans and the public." The "media-shy Benson's public appearances have been even more limited in recent years, creating a mysterious Wizard of Oz-like aura around his lofty position." Benson has "battled his share of health problems over the years." He had "quadruple bypass heart surgery" in '01. Complications from knee surgery in December '14 left him "frail and heavily medicated." The "mental anguish he endured from a contentious and protracted legal battle" with his estranged heirs "didn't help matters." But since then, Benson has "steadily recovered." He uses a wheelchair or cane to get around and a professional caretaker is "by his side 24/7." Saints and Pelicans Exec VP & GM MICKEY LOOMIS said, "It's human nature to assume that when someone physically is not as robust as they once were that they are not as robust mentally as well. But I can assure that that's not the case with him." Saints and Pelicans President DENNIS LAUSCHA added, "Trust me, he holds me and Mickey accountable for everything that happens out here. He is fully engaged." Many of Benson's contemporaries have died in recent years, leaving him among a "shrinking number of old-guard owners." However, Benson, the third oldest NFL owner, might be "busier than ever, while working feverishly to expand his estimated" $2.2B empire. Benson said, "I don't look at myself as being 90. I know I have to walk with a little cane and a little slower maybe. But mentally, I feel very good" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 8/13).

Last night’s episode of HBO’s “Ballers” continued with the efforts by Spencer Strasmore, played by DWAYNE JOHNSON, to bring an NFL team to Las Vegas. The previous episode featured an NFL exec, on the topic of Vegas, asking Strasmore if he wanted to be seen as an "enemy of the league." Strasmore in last night's episode says to his financial advisory firm partner, played by ROB CORDDRY, "It’s a threat, Joe. I mean, it’s really f**king subtle, but it’s still a threat." Strasmore said the league could go after the firm's "credibility" or certification as advisors to players. Strasmore: "It's an old boys' club, Joe. I ain't old enough, I ain't white enough and I sure as f**k ain't clean enough, and neither are you." Strasmore noted Pro Football HOFer TIM BROWN, who appeared in last week's episode, "said that he was gonna back channel for us, but we both know that words without actions, that doesn't amount to shit.”

COWBOY UP: Actor CHRISTOPHER MCDONALD reprised his performance as the unnamed Cowboys owner this week, and expanded the character's role in as part of the Vegas NFL pursuit. His involvement begins with threatening to cut one of Strasmore's clients who play on the Cowboys, as the character converts what was a cannabis endorsement into part ownership of the marijuana grow house. When Strasmore looks to talk face-to-face with the Cowboys owner, the talk turns to Strasmore's Vegas efforts. After the Cowboys owner hints he knows what has been going on, Strasmore reveals his efforts and says, “I could use your support, definitely your wisdom, to get this whole this done.” Strasmore's partner, Joe, adds, “Approval comes through Texas, everybody knows that.” The episode ends with Strasmore telling his Vegas NFL financial backs, played by STEVE GUTTENBERG, that he has a meeting with the Cowboys owner.

LINES OF THE NIGHT:

  • The Cowboys owner says to Strasmore and his partner, “Do you gentlemen have any idea how difficult it is to operate the greatest brand in sport?" Joe replies, “You own the New England patriots too?"
  • The father of a fictional Patriots wide receiver says as to why he follows QB TOM BRADY on social media, "So I don’t look like a creep following his wife. Of course, he only posts pictures of him practicing and wearing them ugly ass Uggs” (“Ballers,” HBO, 8/13).

The Blue Jackets promoted CARMELO MARZULLO to Manager of Season Ticket Services, KATHERINE SCHUETTE to HR Generalist and AMY FRENCH to CRM Manager. The NHL club also named PATRICK REILLY Group Event Specialist and JARED CROCKETT Season Ticket Account Specialist (THE DAILY).

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Senators Senior Advisor BRYAN MURRAY, who was "diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer" in June '14, died Saturday morning after 35 consecutive years working in the NHL. Murray coached for 18 seasons and 1,239 games and "led the Senators" to the Stanley Cup Final in '06-07. He was the "first member of the Senators installed in the Ring of Honour." Murray, who was Senators GM before moving to the advisory role last year, also coached the Capitals and was coach/GM for the Red Wings, Panthers and Ducks (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 8/13).

CHARITABLE GIVING: Golden Knights investors GAVIN and JOE MALOOF are "so confident" FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR. will beat CONOR MCGREGOR that they "bet $880,000 on it." If the Maloof brothers win, they are "giving the proceeds of their whopping wager to charity." The bet is "thought to be the biggest yet made on the fight." The Maloofs will "make an $160,000 profit" if Mayweather wins (AP, 8/13).

NAMES: The Saints yesterday brought in Gold Medal-winning runner CARL LEWIS to "talk to the team" at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center in Metairie, La. (THEADVOCATE.com, 8/13)....Among those in attendance at the BIG3's stop at Staples Center yesterday were Bulls G DWYANE WADE, former NFLer CHAD JOHNSON and league co-Founder ICE CUBE. Rapper CHRIS BROWN also "chopped it up with actor JESSE WILLIAMS," while SNOOP DOGG "took center stage at halftime to perform" (L.A. TIMES, 8/14)....Predators D P.K. SUBBAN’s father, KARL, will soon release a book titled, “HOW WE DID IT; THE SUBBAN PLAN FOR SUCCESS IN HOCKEY, SCHOOL & LIFE” (TENNESSEAN.com, 8/11).