As Sean McManus celebrates 25 years at the helm of CBS Sports, he’s having too much fun to leave now

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Sundays will find Sean McManus on the set of “The NFL Today” with Phil Simms, James Brown, Bill Cowher, Nate Burleson and Boomer Esiason. Jesse ward

Ffirst, let’s do address The elephant in the room.

Sean McManus is not retiring.

Every two years, this rumor gains ground. It happened as Super Bowl 50 approached almost six years ago. What better way to cap off a legendary career in sports media than to produce the 50th NFL Super Bowl?

It’s happening again this year, as the 66-year-old executive who essentially saved CBS Sports marks a career milestone. He oversaw one of the most enduring sports brands for a quarter of a century.

After spending 25 years at the helm of CBS Sports, McManus is obviously closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

But McManus, one of the most respected leaders in all sports, is no closer to retiring today than he was five years ago.

Why would he do it?

He is one of the most respected executives in sports media. League and conference leaders consistently use words like “class” and “integrity” when talking about him.

“What could I do more fun than that?” McManus asked. “Assuming I still have my fastball, I don’t see retirement on the horizon at all right now.”

The truth is, McManus has a job that any football fan would want – he watches every NFL game with a direct line to the executive producer. “I get paid to do something that most people would do for free,” he said.

Take NFL Week 7, for example. CBS chose Kansas City-Tennessee as their main early game, going to 65 percent of the country. The problem: The game turned into a rout in the first half when the Titans took a 27-0 halftime lead. To make matters worse, Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a reliable draw in TV ratings, played miserably.

Sitting in his usual seat in the front row of a CBS Broadcast Center viewing room in New York City, McManus calmly picked up the phone during the first half and called executive producer Harold Bryant, who was down the hall. in a production room. McManus wanted to incorporate more Mahomes reaction shots into the telecast.

McManus tries not to offer these kinds of suggestions too frequently. But when he makes such a call, his team responds.

Almost immediately, the Chiefs-Titans telecast began cutting plans for Mahomes after the Titans made a big play on offense. The reaction shots made for a good TV, as Mahomes’ facial expressions showed his discouragement with the progress of the game.

Later in the third quarter, when it became clear the Chiefs weren’t going to return, McManus met with Dan Weinberg, executive vice president of programming, to work out when to move from play to more competitive play.

What fan wouldn’t want that kind of influence on the way America’s most popular sport is broadcast on TV?

Tracked by a reporter all over the CBS Broadcast Center in New York that Sunday, it was easy to see why McManus had no plans to quit his job. He’s still energized by NFL Sundays.

Two hours before the 1 p.m. kick-off, McManus took the tour, having a friendly chat with everyone from on-air talent to behind-the-scenes employees at CBS Sports Network and the broadcast studio.

He first stopped on the set of “That Other Pregame Show” on CBS Sports Network, casually chatting with the folks at the studio. He was keen to offer encouragement to former Chicago Bear Brock Vereen, who was working on his first episode as an analyst.

From there, McManus moved on to “The NFL Today,” where he spoke with the film crew who know the CBS executive best. He joked with Phil Simms about their respective haircuts, which caused show host James Brown to shake his head and laugh, “How can you talk to the boss about things like that?”

“It’s one of the most enjoyable and exhilarating parts of my job, being in the studio for the NFL,” McManus said.

McManus and former CBS CEO Michael Jordan celebrate the deal in 1998 that would bring the NFL back to CBS.getty pictures

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It’s no exaggeration to say that McManus saved CBS Sports when he was hired in 1996 to replace David Kenin.

The problem back then was that CBS Sports didn’t really have a lot of sports. In the years leading up to joining, CBS lost the rights to the NBA (which went to NBC), MLB (which went to ABC and NBC), the Olympics (which went to NBC) and, most importantly , the NFL (which went to Fox).

Before taking the job, McManus made sure then-owner Westinghouse would back his plans to rebuild the CBS Sports Department. Westinghouse executives assured him they would.

McManus’ first agenda in 1996 was to improve the quality of CBS Sports productions, so he brought in a new executive producer in Terry Ewert and hired on-air talent like Greg Gumbel, Dick Enberg and a young Ian Eagle.

But McManus also had to ensure that the relationship between CBS Sports and the rights holders was strong, which became a constant theme over his 25-year career. He enlisted Tony Petitti as executive number 2 to help build the network.

In those early days, McManus spent a lot of time with Augusta National, the NCAA, the PGA Tour, and the PGA of America.

But McManus’ main ambition was to reclaim the NFL rights for CBS, so he developed a solid relationship with Bob Tisch, who owned the New York Giants at the time, the NFL commissioner at the time. Paul Tagliabue and future NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He met regularly with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to let them know that CBS was going to be a serious player early in the negotiations.

“Deep down inside, every day I was looking for a way to get the NFL back,” McManus said.

CBS ended up grabbing the AFC package from NBC in 1998, paying an average of $ 500 million a year, which doubled the rights fees that NBC was paying at the time. Despite the outrageous cost, which seems an odd price by today’s standards, CBS made a profit on the deal, McManus said.

McManus and Tagliabue signed the deal on Monday after the Jets-Broncos AFC championship game, which sparked a lot of celebrations at CBS offices. A staff member brought six bottles of champagne to a CBS boardroom, and McManus said each of those bottles had been opened.

“I never felt the kind of professional exhilaration I felt when I signed this agreement,” he said. “When I started telling people we got the NFL back, you could literally hear people screaming in the hallways, running around my office, hugging each other. It was as if they had all just won the Mega Millions lottery.

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CBS Sports in 1998, when McManus made the deal with the NFL, bears little resemblance to CBS Sports from 2021, when McManus made a $ 2 billion a year deal for the NFL.

Take this NFL Sunday October 24, for example. The viewing room where McManus and his team sit is equipped with 15 screens packed with NFL action. That day, however, one of the screens was dedicated to an Italian football match between Inter Milan and Juventus.

McManus is shown with Jim Nantz at the 1997 Final Four in Indianapolis, the first for McManus after joining CBS Sports.CBS Sports

It would have been unthinkable that a European football match would occupy one of these screens in 1998. Hell, that would have been improbable in 2018 as well. But the match, which was on streaming service Paramount +, shows how McManus and his team have adapted to the changing sports media environment.

Relationships are just as important as ever. The same is true of high quality productions. But alongside his trusted lieutenant, David Berson, McManus guided CBS through the rise of video streaming that changed the business in multiple ways.

When McManus first started, CBS was just a broadcast network. Now, CBS offers cable channels, websites, and a streaming service, all of which need sports programming to thrive.

The change made McManus see athletic properties differently. In 1996, it was easy to determine the value of a sports property. Network executives should calculate how much they could generate in sales and subtract how much they would have to pay for the production.

Eventually, this model became more complicated as the rights assessments included the cable affiliation and retransmission consent fees.

Today, additional emphasis has been placed on adding and retaining streaming subscribers. With Paramount + in play, CBS can afford to pay more in rights.

The bottom line is that live sports rights have become even more valuable in this new media environment.

The 2019 Viacom-CBS merger added even more platforms McManus could tap into during rights negotiations. Nickelodeon, for example, has made some popular, kid-focused NFL productions.

And the addition of the Paramount + streaming service forced McManus to get involved in football rights for the first time in his career, making deals for the UEFA Champions League, Concacaf and Serie A. CBS has signed 10 deals for international football properties, all of which include streaming components.

“It made things more complicated,” McManus said. “This has given us new opportunities, with properties like the Champions League and Serie A, which we could not have afforded to acquire without direct revenue to consumers.”

The change has also significantly increased the workload for CBS Sports. It will broadcast 2,000 games a year, with a studio show for many of those games. In October, CBS Sports produced 26 studio shows over 30 days.

“Everything we look at going forward will have an element of direct-to-consumer sales,” McManus said. “Whether it’s the driving force, as it used to be, with the Champions League negotiations, or whether it’s incremental to our linear distribution, it’s here to stay and will become an increasingly important priority. for CBS Sports. “

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McManus seems more energetic than ever about the business he runs.

He is especially proud of the team he has assembled, which includes Berson, President of CBS Sports, an executive he hired 11 years ago as his second-in-command and eventual successor. The two have an extraordinarily close relationship, both personally and professionally.

“Our entire team is tight-knit and collaborative,” said McManus. “We don’t have a policy. We have no pride in being the author.

He’s also driven to find the best ways to compete in an evolving media business that he believes will lead to a few more victories in an already hall of fame career.

“We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, but we’re going to continue to be aggressive,” said McManus. “It’s hard work, but incredibly enjoyable.


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