ESPN/ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer accepts his award for Sports Executive of the Year.
ESPN President George Bodenheimer has distinguished himself among his peers by building a network synonymous with sports in the U.S. But the thing that set him apart from his peers in 2010 was spearheading the network’s much-praised coverage of an event held half a world away: the 2010 FIFA World Cup from South Africa.
All of ESPN’s networks earned a 31 percent ratings increase last summer. Its World Cup coverage not only won three Sports Emmys, but helped ESPN pull down three of the biggest awards at the 2011 Sports Business Awards. Bodenheimer was named Sports Executive of the Year, and ESPN was awarded Best in Sports Television and Best in Sports Media. The three honors represented the largest haul for any company in the four-year history of the awards.
In person, Bodenheimer always stresses teamwork and the people behind the network. Those comments took on added significance at the awards dinner, which came on a day that saw the release of highly charged excerpts from a controversial new book about ESPN. The book, “Those Guys Have All the Fun,” detailed many stories of ESPN employees behaving badly.
“On behalf of our 6,500 employees around the world, I dedicate and accept this award,” Bodenheimer said. “Their continuing efforts to produce world-class products around the globe never stops. They’re 6,500 good people, hardworking people, who every day work to push our mission of serving sports fans a little bit further.”
ESPN’s 2010 World Cup coverage played a huge part of its near sweep of the media awards. The company named the World Cup one of its top three priorities in 2010, and that emphasis paid big dividends over the summer as the event’s TV ratings increased 31 percent and viewership jumped 41 percent from 2006.
For ESPN, the World Cup wasn’t just about TV. It rolled out impressive 3-D and broadband applications. And it successfully delivered live coverage of the event on mobile phones, a precursor to its WatchESPN application. The World Cup drove major viewership on its ESPN3 platform, which had more than 7.4 million unique viewers.
“I was proud of the job we did on the World Cup across all our media,” said John Kosner, senior vice president and general manager of ESPN Digital Media.
In addition to the World Cup, ESPN signed a landmark carriage deal with Time Warner in 2010 that is considered by many to be one of the most forward-thinking deals in cable history. The deal led to ESPN creating two new channels and rolling out an authenticated service that allows Time Warner Cable subscribers to watch ESPN channels on their mobile phones and tablets.
ESPN’s work contributed to the recognition of at least one other winner. The University of Texas’ DeLoss Dodds was recognized as Athletic Director of the Year largely because of the 20-year, $300 million deal the school cut with ESPN to launch the Longhorn Network.
“The greatest memory I’ll have would be when ESPN walked in the door and offered us the money they offered and the scope of the network that they could bring,” Dodds said. “We wanted this to be different, to be for Texas, and ESPN will help us deliver that.”
On a night dominated by ESPN, one award was talked about afterward as being among the biggest surprises of the night.
The ING New York City Marathon became the first participatory event to be named Sports Event of the Year. The recognition put the event in the company of past winners like the Super Bowl and NHL Winter Classic. It came for a 2010 event that featured the largest starting field in the marathon’s history, 45,350 runners, and the participation of rescued Chilean miner Edison Peña.
“We had the biggest marathon ever,” said Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of the New York Road Runners, which organizes the marathon. “We’ve never been about being the biggest, we want to be the best. Our partners helped bring the stories to life. From Amani Toomer running with Timex to Jared Fogle running with Subway, all of our partners jumped in to take us to another level.”
Staff writers John Ourand, Terry Lefton, Fred Dreier and Michael Smith contributed to this story.