The Five Spot: Jon Litner

President, YES Network

Why This Matters

Bonus Five

Shows on your DVR?
Ray Donovan and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

All-time top TV show?
For sentimental reasons, All in the Family. I used to watch it with my grandmother when I was a little boy.

Favorite app:
One is Waze, the other is Fox Sports Go.

Vacation bucket list?
Iceland. My son Michael told me it’s absolutely breathtaking.

Books on the night stand?
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden and The Mantle of Command by Nigel Hamilton.

It’s baseball season, the New York Yankees are winning, and that’s as good as a doubleheader for Jon Litner, who joined the industry’s biggest regional sports network as president last year.

With Aaron Judge blasting homers, YES Network’s Yankees ratings are up 50% and game telecasts are No. 1 among men versus all regularly scheduled broadcast and cable programs.

Litner, who grew up in Red Sox territory, has played nearly every position in the sports business. He’s been at a network, with ABC Sports; at the National Hockey League; at national cable networks Versus and Golf Channel; at a distributor in Comcast; and at regional sports networks.

Away from the office, Litner said his family is his top priority. He’s got two sons and a daughter. Michael played lacrosse at Amherst College and is now working in New York, David is in film school at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Jenna is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin.

An edited transcript of his conversation with B&C business editor Jon Lafayette follows.

What did you want to be when grew up?
I wanted to be a professional baseball player, like lots of red-blooded athletic guys. But it was pretty evident to me in college that I wasn’t blessed with Ted Williams’ eyesight, nor Mickey Mantle’s forearm strength, so I decided to get into the business of sports by using my IQ points instead. I played at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass., with Paul Sorrento, who had an 11-year career in the major leagues, and I also followed Glenn Sherlock, third base coach for the Mets. Then I went to Yale and played four years of football and baseball.

Why did you go to law school?
It trains you how think through a problem, negotiate, think on your feet. There are lots of tangible skills you get out of law school beyond simply the elements of the law. I met [TV vet and now MLB chief operating officer] Tony Petitti when I was a summer associate at a law firm where he was a second-year associate. We became very good friends. He very much became a mentor to me. After I graduated I went to work at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, a law firm that [former MLB commissioner] Bowie Kuhn was of counsel; that’s why I went there.

We hear about ESPN’s problems. Is sports on TV still a good business?
ESPN remains a terrific business. They’re recalibrating the relationship between their revenue and their costs and trying to figure out where to take their business. What we have as a regional sports network is the New York Yankees, one of the world’s most pre-eminent sports brands, with great history, great tradition, a passionate fan base and — when the team is back winning, as it is now — it is one of those teams that become part of the fabric of the community. So, in many ways, we’re in a stronger position and a bit more resistant to some of these macro factors that are impacting all of us.

What’s your No. 1 sports moment?
I went to the Tommy Morrison-Ray Mercer fight in Atlantic City, 1992. It was part of our Wide World of Sports ABC programming weekend. I brought my now-wife, Polly, on a date. Morrison got knocked out cold by Mercer and we were sitting in the sixth or seventh row and I was horrified that I had blown it with my date because it was such a violent knockout with sweat and everything flying into the first couple of rows. I looked over at Polly and she was up out of her seat, screaming, yelling, enjoying the moment, and at that point in time I said, ‘I’m going to marry this woman.’

What do you do for fun?
I’m very much an outdoor enthusiast. I play golf, I cycle, I paddleboard, anything I can do that involves some sort of physical exertion I enjoy doing.