Steve Herbst, the executive VP and general manager of CBS College Sports Network, barely had time to take off his cap and gown before entering the business world. Given the opportunity to intern at the National Basketball Association, he moved to New York the day after he received his diploma in sports management from the University of Massachusetts.
“It took all of one day between graduation and starting the internship,” Herbst says. “I was the intern that never left.”
He wound up staying at the NBA for nearly 20 years, rising to the position of senior VP of broadcasting and general manager of NBA TV, before moving to CBS College Sports last year. “That is something that both [NBA Commissioner] David Stern and I were very proud of, the fact that he worked his way up,” recalls NBA deputy commissioner and COO Adam Silver.
His first job at the NBA was to log games, before moving into production as a production assistant and later associate producer for the NBC series NBA Inside Stuff. Moving up through the production ranks, Herbst saw an opportunity in early 1999, when the league announced plans for NBA TV; the network was on the air by November.
“There was not a lot of lead time, but it was very exciting,” Herbst says. “I threw my hat in the ring immediately.”
Herbst, who was instrumental in NBA TV's launch, would eventually head up programming for the network and later add general manager duties. “We literally started sketching what the screen would look like; it was as basic as that, a real labor of love,” he says.
In 2008, Turner and the NBA struck a deal that would move the network's operations to Turner headquarters in Atlanta. Herbst decided that he wanted to stay in New York and see what other opportunities he could take on. “Almost immediately, it became clear I wanted to stay in television, stay in the cable network business,” he says.
He would get that chance. As it happened, CBS College Sports was looking for a new leader for the network.
Silver knew CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus well (“We are both Duke grads,” he says), and got in touch with the CBS executive about Herbst. “[I told him] that here was an incredible person that happened to be available, and who I thought had the perfect experience to run this network,” Silver says.
McManus and CBS CEO Les Moonves met with Herbst and were quickly impressed. “We agreed he was the perfect candidate for the job,” McManus says. “He had experience in a lot of different areas; you can't say that about a lot of executives.”
Herbst joined CBS College Sports as executive VP and general manager in June 2008. “The NBA was a terrific training ground for everything you could possibly want on the management side,” Herbst says. “I took those lessons with me to the great brand that is CBS.”
Since Herbst joined CBS College Sports, distribution of the network has grown to more than 30 million homes, with more deals on the way. Herbst plans to dramatically increase the network's high-definition programming output in 2009. He is also working to build brand recognition among fans and those in the industry. An important part of that effort will be the network's coverage of the 2009 NCAA men's basketball tournament, also known as March Madness.
“For those three weeks, that is what everyone talks about,” he says. “And now for me, at a professional level to be able to work in that environment, is really exciting.”
His enthusiasm for the sports he covers is part of the reason he was chosen for the job, according to McManus. “[He] is dedicated and passionate, and I don't use those words often,” McManus says. “He wants this channel to succeed.”
And that passion extends outside the office; Herbst serves as a coach for his son's basketball team and his daughter's soccer team. As he puts it: “Anything I can do that is involved in sports, whether playing, watching or coaching, I try to get myself involved.”