Fifth Estater: ESPN's Phillips Enjoys a Good Sports Challenge
Sports net's Web VP tasked with scoring big on a rebrand
By Alex Weprin -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/29/2010 12:00:00 AM
As VP of ESPN360.com—which rebrands as ESPN3.com on April 4—the skills he has picked up along the way have come in very handy. “The thing I really enjoy is new businesses,” Phillips says. “That has been my experience: brand extensions and building news businesses.”
With thousands of hours of programming—including simulcasts of ESPN programs such as Sunday Night Baseball and its upcoming World Cup coverage, as well as exclusive rights to sports such as cricket and Australian rules football—ESPN360 has carved out a wide niche for the nearly 50 million sports fans who have access to the service.
Now, Phillips is leading the network as it makes a fullcourt press in its coming rebrand as ESPN3.com. Along with the new identity, the site will be moving to the Adobe Flash platform, making it easier to access for consumers. It will also feature higher-quality video and more customization options.
According to Phillips, the challenge is to change how ESPN3 is perceived. “It is not a Website that has live events; it is a TV network that happens to be delivered through your Ethernet connection,” he says.
Before Phillips picked up the entrepreneurial spirit at ESPN, he was picking up the pigskin. As a linebacker at Stanford University in the early 1990s, Phillips was in what he calls “probably the best class I ever took,” playing for the legendary Stanford and San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh. His experience playing for Walsh not only fulfi lled a dream, but nurtured his competitive spirit and love for sports.
After graduating from Stanford in 1995, Phillips took a position at the National Basketball Association in the league’s management training program. The program took recent college grads and cycled them through different parts of the business. He ended up securing a full-time job in the NBA’s sports marketing division, working with corporate sponsors such as Nestlé and McDonald’s.
From the NBA, he joined Disney Regional Entertainment, which sought to bring the company’s vision to local enterprises. Phillips was tasked with helping launch a new restaurant experience, called ESPN Zone. “That’s one of the things I love about Disney; it’s a big company, but within this big company you have these very entrepreneurial businesses,” he says.
Following some time at DirecTV and startup Broadband Sports, Phillips formed his own company in 2004, SportsTVInsider.com. The service vaulted from an algorithm he designed, building custom sports television viewing schedules for a client base consisting mostly of hospitality businesses. Eventually, a consumer application and mobile product came from the company.
He would go on to join another relatively new organization in 2006: USA Football, as its assistant executive director. USA Football was founded by the NFL and NFL Players Association in 2002 to promote youth and amateur football. Phillips put that leadership experience to good use when he joined ESPN in 2008.
Fellow Stanford grad and ESPN Senior VP of Digital Media John Kosner says Phillips was a natural fi t at the company. “He is the triple crown of things you are looking for in an executive,” Kosner says. “He works really well with his own group and across the aisle, he has a vision for the product, he is always thinking about what the next step is, and he has an attention to detail that allows him to transition that vision into making it happen.”
Phillips’ passion for sports extends beyond his career. He coaches his kids’ sports teams, including basketball, soccer, football and lacrosse. He says he holds his own—mostly: “I am still getting schooled in lacrosse right now.”
VP, ESPN360.com (ESPN3.com as of April 4)
B.A., Stanford University, 1995
National Basketball Association, 1995-1997; Disney Regional Entertainment, 1997-1998; Broadband Sports, 1998-1999; DirecTV, 2000-2002; Fox Sports Grill, 2002-2004; SportsTVInsider.com, founder, 2004-2008; USA Football, assistant executive director, 2006- 2008; current position since 2008
b. April 2, 1973, San Francisco; wife Margo, children Page, Carter, Reed and Ross
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