Considering the content of “Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN” by Jim Miller and Tom Shales, which hits book stores today, you’d think that ESPN would try to stiff arm any kind of publicity on it.
Go figure that ESPN Radio’s Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, who had Miller on their show this morning. They must have come out on the clean side.
Since we missed it, we’ll take a Sports Business Daily report of the conversation, where Millers said that people want to know “who you are and why you do the things you do and more importantly, how’d you get so big, how’d you get so successful. … The goal of the book is really to answer some of those questions, give people a sense of what happens behind the scenes for you guys and answer that central question: How did this all happen? (It’s) not a particularly sexy answer.
“There were some really smart guys in the ’80s who put together a financial model where you have two strings of revenue. You have advertisers and you also have cable subscribers.”
Miller said the “question (after 32 years of ESPN existence) becomes almost now, are you too big? … “I think that’s a justifiable question that your competitors ask. Is there an unfair advantage? And I think that there’s a lot of jealousy or bitterness amongst the competitors because you guys have the kind of dominance that you do. …
“In many ways you guys are a big, huge part of any equation. We’re a couple of weeks away from Switzerland and everybody’s talking about whether or not you guys are finally going to get the Olympics.”
The SBD also includes a brief review from SportsIlustrated.com’s Richard Deitsch (linked here): “Those who work in the business of sport “will devour the book,” but the casual sports fan “is likely to find certain parts tedious.” The “biggest criticism is the sheer size of the narrative.” Still, these are “small quibbles, because the reader is ultimately granted the kind of behind-the-scenes access that sports media junkies are rarely given.
Miller also did a Q-and-A with SBD’s John Ourand:
Q: Why did you decide to do this book?
Miller: I consider ESPN to be one of the great media success stories of all time, and there wasn’t a book of record. I’ve been watching the network for a long, long time.
Q: How did your impressions of ESPN change from when you started reporting until now?
Miller: There are things that obviously wound up being as meaningful as I thought. In 1987, when the NFL came to ESPN, it was a huge, huge change. But there were other things that really surprised me. For example, I didn’t pay much attention to ESPN2. I viewed it as Keith Olbermann and his leather jacket, which was a real failure. I completely missed the boat. It wasn’t about Keith in a leather jacket. As [then ESPN president] Steve Bornstein says, he could have been in a T-shirt. Somehow, Bornstein convinced [then Cap Cities executives] Tom Murphy and Dan Burke to use retransmission consent to get ESPN2 on those cable systems. Once you started vertically integrating like that, that was one of the first major steps to what we now know is the modern ESPN, with six networks, all these platforms and everything else.
Q: There wasn’t as much emphasis on the alleged frat house culture as I thought there would be.
Miller: Did you read about the ESPN2 launch party?
Q: The one where Bornstein was “so blitzed he collapsed into a clump of bushes?” That sounded like quite a party. But I know people thought the book would be a sexual and drunken history of the place.
Miller: A person who read the book said to me, “I can’t believe you didn’t talk about this person’s sex life. He must have been with 15 women at the company.” Where do you draw the line? The Steve Phillips incident was instructive because it had a huge effect on the culture and it wound up leading to the dismissal of two senior executives. That makes it book worthy. But just because somebody has an affair with somebody else — it’s just not that kind of book.
Q: What surprised you the most about ESPN?
Miller: One of the biggest surprises was the diversity of opinion. I was surprised by the fact that it’s a really big place with a lot of different opinions. You don’t really hear it. ESPN is like the White House. They’re really good on messaging. Every once in a while, Tony Kornheiser will say something or Bill Simmons might say something. By and large, they stay on message, and you might think that’s the way it really is. But it’s not.
Q: How many executives told you that ESPN “serves sports fans?”
Miller: I banned that phrase. It was in my seventh interview when somebody said it again, and I said, “I get it. I just can’t hear it again.”
Q: What ESPNers stand out for you?
Miller: I’ve never seen a company in my life where it’s unbelievable that the right person is there at the right time. If you even flip Steve Bornstein and George Bodenheimer, it’s a problem. If you flip Chet Simmons and Bill Grimes it’s a problem. Somehow, the right person was there at the right time. Chet’s there to get the NFL Draft and start production and do all these great programming ideas. Once it’s up and running, you get Bill and Roger Werner in to actually make it into a business and develop the dual revenue stream. Once that’s up, you have Bornstein, who’s aggressive as hell and is going to beat the crap out of the competition any way that he can, whether it’s Ted Turner or ABC Sports. Once he leaves, you have George, who basically is very, very good at delegating and is pretty confident about himself even though he’s soft spoken. He has these experts in these various areas, and he lets them run wild.
Q: What current ESPNers did you particularly like?
Miller: Not to play favorites, but if the building is on fire, I’d quickly grab Rob King and Michelle Beadle. I think Rob has a really interesting style about him. I think he’s really smart. But he’s savvy enough to know how to navigate his way through the organization. I think Beadle can do anything. She’s smart about her career and the presentation of herself. If three years from now, she’s hosting “Entertainment Tonight,” I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s up to her though.
Q: What’s your favorite story in the book?
Miller: One of the most interesting stories for me was the Rush Limbaugh incident. That’s another one that I didn’t think too much of when I was starting to do the book. What fascinated me, though, was that everybody stood their ground and on the record. Tom Jackson was skeptical that the network hired Rush from the beginning. He was offended by what Rush said. He thought about leaving. He takes the reader through all of that. Meanwhile, on the other side, Mark Shapiro, his boss at the time, still can’t believe that nobody said anything when Rush said it. He thought they blew it. The producers weren’t listening. Nobody on the set was listening. He thought it was the same moment that Ted Koppel had with Al Campanis. It’s really smart dialogue. It turns out that there really are two sides to it. It was the same thing with “Playmakers.” ESPN’s going to do a fictionalized story about the NFL? That sounds like a bad idea. But when you hear Shapiro and others talk about it, you understand how it can happen. For me, it’s not about one big specific story. It’s just about the moments that people talk about behind the scenes about what it’s like to be there. Those were the most enjoyable things for me.