'SportsCenter' Chief Keeps the 'Worldwide Leader' in the Lead

ESPN senior VP and EP of production Mark Gross ensures the network’s franchise show remains at the top of its game

Why This Matters

Mark Gross


Senior VP & executive producer of production, ESPN


B.S., Television & Radio, Ithaca College, 1988

Employment Highlights:

(All with ESPN) Coordinating producer,SportsCentercoverage of Atlanta Olympics, 1996

Director of programming, ESPN Zone; coordinating producer,ESPNZone.com, 1997-2002

Coordinating producer, 2002

Senior coordinating producer, 2003-05

Senior VP & managing editor, studio production, 2005-10

Current title since 2010


Born March 30, 1966; wife, Denise

On Sept. 13 at 6 p.m. ET, ESPN’s flagship studio show, SportsCenter’ aired its 50,000 episode. And Mark Gross, the
man behind the long-running news program, has long been
busy figuring out how to make the next 50,000 even more
memorable than the first.

As ESPN’s senior VP and executive
producer of production, Gross
oversees many of the network’s content
areas, including the ESPNEWS
network, college sports, NBA, NFL
studio programming, Little League
World Series and the content integration
and production wrap unit. But
he knows it’s SportsCenter that sits
atop ESPN’s totem pole.

“You always come back to SportsCenter,” said Gross. “It’s exciting to be
a part of the team that produces it.”

It’s also exciting to dream big about
future possibilities for the show. One
of the ways Gross hopes to one day
help the program be all things to all
fans is to give viewers a personalized
SportsCenter experience, one that answers
the question, “‘If I just want
the Dodgers, Angels and Clippers
highlights, how can I get my own
personal SportsCenter?’” ESPN is already
looking into ways to make that
happen. It’s an ambitious but logical
progression from the current localized versions of the show’s website
in the Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft. Worth and New York
markets that offer region-specific versions of SportsCenter.

Personalizing SportsCenter as much as possible, said Gross, is another
tenet of the show’s multiplatform strategy. Gross said a continued expansion
into the social media space is imperative because “that’s where
fans expect [us] to be.”

SportsCenter recently began integrating the iPowow device into its
broadcast, which creates new options for encouraging interaction between
the network and the viewer/user.

The rise of other 24-hour sports networks has turned up the pressure
for ESPN to maintain its lofty status. And like any athlete at the top of
his game, Gross welcomes the competitive challenge. “That’s the way
it should be,” he said. As he works to further evolve the show, Gross
promises that SportsCenter won’t stray too far from its identity. “We
don’t need to turn into something we’re not,” he said. “The bread-andbutter
is still scores and highlights.”

Being sports TV’s big dog subjects ESPN to intense scrutiny, as Gross
is well aware. And since the show has been a part of the sports lexicon
for so long, viewers tend to understandably “feel they have ownership.”

One of the biggest criticisms that ESPN comes under is perceived
favoritism to certain teams and players (a certain New York Jets backup
quarterback is, for instance, a frequent lightning rod). Gross said he
merely attempts to give viewers what he thinks they want: “We try to
! gure out what the buzz is across the country.”

Norby Williamson, ESPN executive VP of
programming & acquisitions, touted Gross’
ability to get the pulse of fans: “He has a unique
ability to drive creative content that delivers results
while being able to manage a high-energy
department that requires his attention 24/7.”

Gross welcomes input from everyone, something SportsCenter anchor
Scott Van Pelt echoed on a recent conference call with reporters:
“Anybody whose voice is raised that brings up a point or a story line
that deserves to be looked at, it’s got a shot to make it in,” Van Pelt said.

Having been with the network since 1988, Gross has seen SportsCenter
mature through the years. The biggest difference Gross can see is the
relentless news cycle today. “The amount of sports news that is out
there every single day is just amazing,” he said.

But one news event that always sticks out to him over those 24 years
is the bombing during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The attack took
place only blocks away from where ESPN was headquartered and, as
Gross recalled the scene, “We just happened to be there.

“There weren’t a lot of people on TV live at 1:20 in the morning,” he
said. “We were the only ones still live, and we had a camera present.”
Gross noted that Atlanta area news media were referencing SportsCenter
in their reports, something he considers a bit of a watershed moment
for the program.

That’s only one of the many reasons ESPN has been the only professional
home Gross has known—and why the sports fan is thankful that,
as he put it, “I just happened to go to the College World Series in Bristol,
Conn.,” in June 1988. That’s when he found out from a friend—who
was already working at ESPN—that the network offered a production
assistant program, which turned out to be step one in a fruitful career.

“The company has given me everything that I have,” Gross said. “I’m
just a loyal company guy.”

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