When he came out of Marist College more than a decade ago, John Lasker, 32, could not have dreamed of his current job—senior director, programming and acquisitions, ESPN Digital Media—because it didn't exist. Dealing with content for ESPN's broadband sports network and video-on-demand, in conjunction with Microsoft Xbox and Apple's iTunes, is a thoroughly 21st-century job.
Yet the Brooklynite wasn't even really seeking a career in television. It just kind of happened.
Lasker, who ran cross-country and track in high school and college, "always wanted to be involved in sports in some way shape or form."
His first part-time job was as old-fashioned as it gets—a public relations job with the NBA, cutting out hoops-related newspaper clips every day. "I always had black fingers from the newsprint," he says.
Then he landed a media buying gig and contact with the ESPN ad sales department in 1999. While ESPN marked a great opportunity, Lasker soon "realized I didn't want to sit on the couch and say, 'Hey, I'm responsible for that commercial.'
"It felt disassociated from what ESPN was and why people watched."
So he grabbed at the chance to apply his knowledge of what advertisers wanted to a new job as program planner for ESPN Original Entertainment (EOE) and for ESPN2. Two years ago, he made the leap across the digital divide, though he says his old-school television experience still helped.
"The digital space is like the Wild West, but when I was doing [entertainment programming] it wasn't endemic to the ESPN culture, so I think that translates pretty well," he says. Still, he had a lot to learn: "I can't say I was ready to hit the ground running."
Lasker quickly found his footing, helping forge a sharper identity for ESPN360.com as a home just for live events while also thinking outside the proverbial box on the Xbox and iTunes deals.
"He works hard and he is smart, so everyone else has to step up their game," says ESPN360.com VP Damon Phillips, who adds that Lasker understands both his audience and his business partners equally well.
Lasker says he keeps it simple, focusing on the company mantra of keeping the fan's interests front and center. But he knows that nothing is really simple in the ever-changing digital world. As Lasker puts it, "The biggest challenge is staying ahead of the curve." —Stuart Miller