Sean McManus, President, CBS News and Sports
Sean McManus' HOF Speech
When Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports since 1996, also took the helm of CBS News in October 2005, he attempted to break the ice at his first news division meeting with a joke. It was baseball playoffs season, and he empathically suggested that that night's CBS Evening News lead with baseball scores.
"Everyone looked at me in horror," laughs McManus.
The "sports guy" had infiltrated the network's storied news division, rendering everyone's crystal ball just a little cloudy. "A lot of people wondered, could a sports guy come over and run the news division," says Bob Schieffer, CBS' chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation. "I never really wondered about that because I knew Sean's father, Jim McKay, and I knew his values and what a great journalist he was. Sean had the right genes."
McManus approached the job with a respect and seriousness of purpose gleaned over a lifetime. The son of legendary ABC sportscaster McKay (who changed his on-air name in 1950) and trailblazing newspaper reporter Margaret Dempsey, McManus' career may be a study in destiny.
"I was in production trucks at the age of 8, travelling with my father," recalls McManus. "Many of the lessons I still use today; good storytelling, good writing -which he was fanatical about-being accurate, being a journalist and a sports commentator second. Those are lessons I learned from him almost by the time I could walk."
McManus' 14-year tenure at CBS Sports began with the restoration of the NFL to the network in 1998 and has unfolded with a list of similarly auspicious rights packages: a landmark 15-year extension with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) that will keep the games on CBS through the 2023-24 season; a $10.8 billion, 14-year, rights-sharing deal with Turner on NCAA men's basketball.
"CBS Sports would not have been the same if Sean did not bring the NFL back," says Jim Nantz, the network's lead NFL play-by-play announcer. "It kept us whole."
McManus admits that his stewardship of the CBS News has been more arduous; he does not put the ratings-challenged CBS Evening News With Katie Couric or The Early Show in the "mission accomplished category," he says. But he can nevertheless mark a number of successes in a maturing business, including innovations in the digital space, a new state-of-the-art newsroom and the continued ratings dominance of 60 Minutes and Sunday Morning.
McManus is unfailingly polite and easygoing, with a moral compass inherited from his father. He's a stickler for grammar, as his father was. And he has an analytical eye that is almost preternatural, the result of a childhood spent at sporting events, or in front of the TV watching them.
Summers during college at Duke University were spent working as a gofer at ABC Sports, where he learned at the knee of another broadcast legend: Roone Arledge, the only other executive to simultaneously occupy the top news and sports jobs at a network.
At 17, McManus was in the control room at the Olympic village at the 1972 Munich Games for his father's marathon coverage of the assassinations of Israeli athletes, a seminal news event and a defining moment of McKay's career. But McManus' mother-who endured her husband's frequent absences-encouraged her son to give Wall Street a try. "She said, ‘You can probably make more money, and you won't have to live your life on airplanes like your father,'" recalls McManus.
An internship at Solomon Brothers cured him of the notion that he might be cut out for anything other than broadcasting -the thrill of competition would always trump the agony of air travel. Upon graduation in 1977, he took a job as a production assistant and associate producer at ABC Sports. But he quickly realized that if he was going to be judged objectively, he had to distance himself from the considerable shadow of his famous father.
So in 1979 McManus took a job as an associate producer at NBC Sports, rising to VP of programming by 1982 at just 27 years old. It was at NBC Sports that Mc- Manus shifted from production to rights negotiations. He was instrumental in NBC rights agreements for the Olympics, the NFL, Wimbledon, the Breeder's Cup and auto racing. In 1987, he left NBC to become a senior VP at Trans World International, the television division of sports management giant IMG, where he was responsible for negotiating media deals on behalf of rights holders.
"He is a great people person-everybody likes Sean," says Barry Frank, executive VP of media sports programming at IMG. "He's easy to deal with. He's not a tough guy, but he's firm and couldn't be pushed around."
"Direct and honest" is how Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp., describes McManus' negotiation style. "Sean is a man of great character," says Moonves. "He has established a trust with the rights holders. They know they're not going to be hustled. And he's smart enough to know that the only good negotiation is one where everybody's happy."
Moonves asked McManus to take the helm of CBS News in the wake of the network's discredited 60 Minutes II report on President George W. Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service. It was a particularly painful and exhausting period for the news division, and McManus had a calming influence. "He was a breath of fresh air," says Schieffer.
McManus was well aware that having two jobs would fundamentally change his life-he's had to be particularly vigilant to carve out time for his family: his wife, Tracy, and their children, Jackson, 9, and Maggie, 11.
McManus and his wife discussed Moonves' offer. "And we decided that for a certain amount of time, it was the right thing for me to do professionally," he says.
Both McManus and Moonves say there have been no discussions about when McManus' tenure at CBS News will come to a close. It will be "as long as Leslie thinks I am performing and am the right man for the position," says McManus, "and as long as I am able to handle the demands of two jobs so that both divisions receive the attention they need and deserve."
And while news is much more demanding than sports, it also holds more significance for McManus.
"I think my life would be a lot simpler and a lot less complicated if I only ran sports. But in some ways, as much as I love what I do in sports, what we do in news is probably more important," he says. "When I'm really exhausted and dealing with things that are not all that enjoyable either in sports or in news, I remind myself that I'm pretty lucky to have one of these jobs, let alone both of them."--Marisa Guthrie