Hoping For More ThanOne Shining Moment

David Berson counting on March Madness, new shows to spark a rally for revamped CBS Sports Network
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When NCAA basketball March Madness tips off on March 13, the 68 teams of powerhouse franchises and budding Cinderella stories won’t be the only ones benefitting from the national spotlight.

The season-capping college hoops tournament is also a massive promotional opportunity for the rising CBS Sports Network, which has been under the helm of president David Berson (who is also executive VP, CBS Sports) since January 2011.

Though the affable Berson, 39, will be rooting for his alma mater, the University of Michigan Wolverines, in the tourney, he is focused on leveraging the marquee event for the CBS Sports Network, which this year will have more than 100 hours of studio-based programming around the event and an expanded on-site presence at the Final Four in New Orleans.

Before coming to CBS, Berson spent 16 years at ESPN, where he started in an entrylevel programming job right out of college and ended up co-running the department. After spending his entire professional career with Team Bristol, the opportunity to lead an up-and-coming cable network appealed to Berson’s entrepreneurial side.

“It’s much smaller, so every person really matters,” he says. “In a bigger place, every person impacts things themselves just a little less. That really makes it fun.”

Berson was also attracted to working with CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. Though the two previously knew each other only by reputation, Berson liked the unique opportunity to manage the network while also assisting McManus on the CBS Sports side, a move that was done to groom Berson for a potentially bigger role down the road.

“I had heard David’s name, he had been mentioned to me by a number of ESPN executives who had said to me, ‘If you’re ever looking for somebody in a senior role who one day might possibly be a successor to you, then David is somebody you should talk to,’” McManus says.

Berson’s first order of business after taking the reins was to change the name of the network from CBS College Sports Network to CBS Sports Network, to better integrate the channel with the legacy brand and pave the way for potential future expansion beyond college athletics.

Since then, his priority has been building up daily live programming on the network, starting with The Tim Brando Show, launched last August, and doubling the amount of live football and basketball studio programming. In January, Berson lured Jim Rome away from ESPN with a deal that includes a 30-minute weeknight show on the network, a presence on CBS Sports and an hour-long series on CBS Corp.-owned Showtime.

Both Brando and Rome were tapped in part because of their radio presence, which they can use to drive an audience to CBS Sports Network. Rome’s show will launch April 3, the day after the NCAA hoops championship game; the host will be on CBS that weekend promoting the premiere.

“It’s no fluke that the first two consistent, daily programs are Brando and Rome, both of whom are CBS personalities and both of whom have other platforms daily from which they’ll talk about their TV presence,” Berson says.

The network has several other shows in development. The plan is to roll out another daily series later this year, potentially expanding the a.m. lineup or filling in the afternoon before Rome’s 6 p.m. time slot.

Beyond building up content and rights to live events—Berson added Professional Bull Riding and professional lacrosse in the last year—he is also focused on gaining distribution. CBS Sports Network is currently in 45 million homes, up from the mid-to-high 30s early last year, and Berson wants to keep that momentum going.

Berson welcomes the challenges of building a network; McManus describes him as “indefatigable” and “relentless in his desire to contribute.” But as a lifelong sports fan, Berson is just grateful to be doing something every day that he loves, while carving out time to spend with his wife and two children, to travel and to keep it all in perspective.

“I think we’ve accomplished a lot; we have a lot more to do,” Berson says of his first year. “We are still in the early innings here.”

E-mail comments to amorabito@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito