Showtime Gets Game Face On

Attorney turned network exec works to keep the hits coming in sports lineup

Why This Matters

Stephen Espinoza

Title:
Executive VP & GM, sports and event programming, Showtime

Education:
B.A., Communication, Stanford University, 1992 J.D., UCLA School of Law, 1996

Employment Highlights:
Attorney, Greenberg Glusker, 1996-2002

Attorney/ Partner, Ziffren Brittenham, 2002-11

Current position since December 2011

Personal:

b. Jan 1, 1970; single; no children

Showtime's scripted department is pumping out hits such as Homeland and House of Lies to critical acclaim that gobble up more viewers each
week. And in a winning and competitive statement that complements his position,
Stephen Espinoza, the network's recently installed executive VP and general
manager of sports and event programing, doesn't want his department to ride
their coattails.

"With the momentum that the entire network has gotten,
particularly the scripted side that's incredibly successful, I need to make
sure our sports programming is keeping pace," says Espinoza.

Espinoza credits the network's "insider" strategy in sports
programming as a giant plus. Showtime's reality boxing series, Fight Camp 360, features no narration
or predetermined story lines, preferring to tell the story through the boxers'
voices. "There's nothing artificial about it," says Espinoza. And the series
Inside NASCAR features a segment called "Inside Wire" that offers uncensored
intercom interactions between a driver and his crew. "We come at [sports
programming] in a slightly different way that resonates with our audience,"
Espinoza says

With series like Inside
the NFL
, Inside NASCAR and The Franchise to go along with boxing
and mixed martial arts programming, Showtime has cemented its place in premium
cable sports, boasting five major franchises. "It is the deepest and broadest
slate of programming, certainly of any premium network," says Espinoza, who
knows that even with all of that, there is room for more.

"Whether it's other franchises or other personalities, one
thing that's clear is that there is an insatiable appetite for sports
programming," he says.

Earlier this month, longtime ESPN personality Jim Rome, who
hosted his popular Rome Is Burning
for the past eight years, left the sports network for CBS. Aside from hosting a
new weekday show on the CBS Sports Network, Rome will also be hosting a series
on Showtime, which promises to be about more than Rome riffing on the day's hot
sports topics.

The exact format for the series is undetermined, and
Espinoza says Showtime and Rome will be "in the lab" for the next few months.

"He's such a distinctive and iconic voice, with strong,
compelling opinions," says Espinoza. "There's no risk there."

One of Espinoza's first deals as head of Showtime Sports was
the new agreement reached with MMA outfit Strikeforce, which Espinoza describes
as a "very complex and delicate negotiation" with UFC (which owns Strikeforce).
But by the time a deal was struck, UFC president Dana White remarked, "I never
thought I would say this, but I am very much looking forward to building
Strikeforce and working very closely with Showtime." Espinoza adds that
Showtime has "a soft spot in our heart for them."

A communications major at Stanford, Espinoza initially
wanted to go into sportscasting. Admitting that after graduation he got "a
little sidetracked," he moved to Los Angeles, where he got a job working for
super-agent Leigh Steinberg, and stayed for three years. Choosing to stick with
the agent path, Espinoza enrolled at UCLA's School of Law. "Leigh only hired
attorneys," says Espinoza. "[His agency] is structured as a law firm." He calls
working with Steinberg "a great experience."

Although he represented athletes, Espinoza says that the
majority of his legal career was on the entertainment side. In 2002, Espinoza
went to the firm of Ziffren Brittenham, where he eventually made partner. At
the firm, he represented athletes such as boxers Oscar De La Hoya and Mike
Tyson. Espinoza also served as lead counsel for De La Hoya's Golden Boy
Promotions after the formation of the company.

While he enjoyed the agent life, the position caused a lot
of wear and tear. "The lifestyle of being a sports agent is difficult," says
Espinoza. "Everything that was fun and exciting when you're 25 is miserable at
35 and 45." However, up until last November, he didn't really figure on moving
to something else.

A mere eight days after meeting with Matt Blank, chairman
and CEO of Showtime Networks, Espinoza was signing a contract. "Once I sat down
with Matt, even though I'd never met [him] before, I found out we spoke the
same language," says Espinoza. "We talked the ‘TV' language."

Blank, for his part, couldn't help but agree. "Stephen has
had a great career that spans sports, entertainment, television and film," he
said in his statement announcing the hire, adding that Espinoza has a "deep
experience in a variety of fields and incredible knowledge and contacts within
the boxing and mixed martial arts communities."

Among many other things, Espinoza is working to improve one
aspect of programming where Showtime has been lagging: documentaries. HBO has
been pumping out sports docs for years, and fresh off the heels of its
successful 30 for 30 series, ESPN
created its ESPN Films series. In late December, Showtime debuted Game of Honor, which took an inside look
at the Army-Navy football game.

"Documentaries is something we want to get more active in,"
says Espinoza, saying that Game of Honor
was hopefully the "first step in a series of meaningful, high-quality
documentaries."

Though Espinoza describes his first few months at Showtime
as a "whirlwind," he is enjoying the new opportunity. "I haven't had a second
thought for any moment."

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