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Volume 22 No. 7
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Forty Under 40

There are myriad reasons why Mike McCarley is entering the Forty Under 40 Hall of Fame this year. In the two years that he has run Golf Channel, the network has posted record high viewership, and last year it saw a double-digit increase in ad sales.

Plus, under McCarley’s direction, Golf Channel has worked with NBC’s broadcast network so well that it has been a model for the company’s other cable networks. From its logo (which incorporates the NBC peacock with Golf Channel’s logo) to its programming strategy (which shares talent across both platforms), Golf Channel has become a valued player in the professional golf world.

But when asked to reflect on his two years at Golf Channel, McCarley doesn’t talk about ratings, ad sales or the new shows he’s overseen. Rather, he talks about Arnold Palmer, the legendary golfer who was part of the team that launched the network in 1995.

Palmer is still involved with Golf Channel and has his own reserved parking space at the network’s Orlando headquarters.

McCarley says he frequently leans on Palmer for advice on how to move the network forward. But he also likes to sit back and listen to Palmer spin stories about everything from his time on the tour to his role in starting the network.

“He has been incredibly generous with his time,” McCarley said. “He’ll give me his view on a subject if I ask. As founder, he never weighs in on anything unless I ask him. For me, it’s been invaluable.”

The relationship McCarley has forged with Palmer is indicative of how the network executive operates in the business. McCarley decided against going to business school in order to work for Dick Ebersol, who ran NBC Sports for decades. McCarley viewed his opportunity with Ebersol as one where he would learn from a legend in the business.

But it wasn’t just Ebersol. While at NBC Sports, McCarley was able to spend time with, and learn from, broadcasting legends such as Jim McKay and John Madden.

“Dick helped my career, of course, and I’m incredibly grateful for that,” McCarley said. “Because of my time at NBC, I was lucky to learn from the icons of the industry. All these guys represent all parts of my career. They all share this absolute genuine quality that what you see is what you get. In this day and age, that’s absolutely refreshing.”

McCarley recalled spending a 2002 dinner with McKay and his wife at the Salt Lake City Olympics. At the time, McKay’s name was synonymous with Olympic hosting. But NBC had the rights to those Winter Games, not ABC, the network for which McKay worked.

NBC planned to use McKay for a small on-air role, as a way for the broadcaster to say goodbye to the Games. McCarley was the executive who became McKay’s main NBC contact.

“For eight months leading up to the Olympics, I talked to McKay four or five times a week,” McCarley said. “I felt lucky to be able to sit there and hear his stories.”

McCarley found himself in a similar situation at a 2008 dinner with Ebersol and Madden in a Chicago steakhouse. Madden was talking about his decision to join Fox in 1994 as the network started its first NFL contract. Madden talked about his negotiations, referencing a meeting he had with Rupert Murdoch just before completing the deal.

Madden asked Murdoch how he settled on the four-year, $1.58 billion bid to get the package, which was much higher than CBS was bidding. Murdoch’s answer: There’s a line where price overtakes loyalty.

“It was a great class in the business over a rib-eye,” McCarley said.

— John Ourand

Age: 39
Title: President
Education: B.A., University of Arizona
Family: Wife, Amy; children Tate (4), Emmy (2) and Carter (5 months)
Career: Dallas Mavericks, media relations assistant, 1997-98; USA Triathlon, communications director, 1998-2000; NBC Sports Group, ultimately senior vice president of marketing for NBC Sports and Olympics, 2000-11; Golf Channel, president, 2011-present
* Hall of Fame distinction is for three-time winners
First Job: Bicycle courier
WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?: Generally one of the kids
How do you strike a work-life balance? I over-married. That helps.
Best business advice received: Listen more than you talk. Never settle.
IPOD PLAYLIST: The Rolling Stones
Favorite iPad app: Weather Channel
Stress release: Golf or working out
Pet peeve: Ambivalence
Guilty pleasure: “West Wing” marathons on DVD
FANTASY JOB: Anything on the beach