Seeing the Whole FieldAt Univision - Broadcasting & Cable

Seeing the Whole FieldAt Univision

International experience informs network’s new sports president, who is determined to grow division by leaps and bounds
Author:
Publish date:

Growing up, Univision Sports President Alexander “Sandy” Brown played “every kind of sport you could imagine.” A Division I lacrosse player at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, he played in the North/South All-Star Game as a senior on a Friday and by the following Monday, he was on the other side of the sports world, having landed a job at ProServ Television.

“Three weeks later, they gave me a plane ticket and said, ‘Go to Europe and sell tennis.’ There was no manual. There was no training,” Brown says. He cut his teeth in the international marketplace selling broadcast rights for the NBA, tennis and some of ProServ’s own programming.

The autonomy of the international distribution business and the ability to start something from scratch appealed to Brown immediately. By the early ’90s, he’d had ample international successes with ProServ and the NBA, and the league brought him in-house to distribute its content. He was then tapped by ESPN, with whom he had worked closely while at the NBA, to run their fledgling operation in Asia. At the time both ESPN and News Corp. were competing heavily to win share in the Far East market.

“We were beating our brains out in terms of programming rights,” Brown says. “[It] made it difficult for either one of us to build a sustainable business when we were continuing to one-up each other for rights fees.” To streamline production and operational costs, ESPN and News Corp. formed the joint venture ESPN Star Sports, with Brown running the show.

“He took on a pretty difficult challenge,” says Bruce Churchill, president of STAR TV in the mid-’90s and now an executive VP at DirecTV. “You had two companies that were competing and two companies that didn’t have the greatest of relationships.”

Executives from both companies praised Brown’s steady hand and lack of favoritism. “When it came to making key management appointments, he did not favor the ESPN team—he put key people in from both companies,” Churchill recalls.

Petty Enterprises CEO Dave Zucker was managing director of ESPN International and worked closely with Brown during the merger. While the ESPN Star Sports deal was a 50/50 venture, a main condition of the deal from Zucker’s side was that Brown lead the project. “[Sandy has] very good people skills, builds trust-based relationships with stakeholders,” Zucker says. “He’s a good manager and a good leader...we were very confident that he would be able to make the merger work.”

With a young family, Brown decided to return to the U.S. after 10 years abroad. By the time he left, ESPN Star Sports boasted six networks and a staff of 500.

Brown’s success in international TV (he also did a stint as head of CNBC Asia) and his understanding of other cultures, in addition to his love of all things sports, make him a strong fit at Univision Sports.

The Hispanic population in the U.S. increased 37% between 2000 and 2009, according to the 2010 Census—a growth rate four times higher than the national average. Hispanics now make up nearly one-sixth of the U.S. population and account for more than $1 trillion in purchasing power. “This is an explosive space,” Brown says of the Hispanic population. “From the sports perspective, I think Univision is very well-positioned to grow this space.”

The network increased its sports profi le in 2010 during the World Cup. The 8.8 million viewers that tuned in to watch the Spain- Netherlands World Cup final was a record for Univision. The network also teamed up with Avail-TVN to make all Cup matches available on demand for the first time.

Univision also has made major investments in FIFA and Mexican League soccer as well, assets that Brown will continue to develop programming around. “Univision has done a tremendous job in covering soccer in terms of catering to the desire of the Hispanic sports fan,” Brown says. He also sees room for the network and all of its various platforms to delve deeper into major sports leagues in the U.S. Last November, just before Brown was named president of the sports division, Univision Interactive Media partnered with the NBA to launch a cobranded Spanish-language site at UnivisionDeportes.com. In addition to scores and league news, the site features blogs by prominent Hispanic NBA players.

U.S. Hispanics are more likely to consume sports information on the Web compared to non-Hispanics, according to a Simmons NCS/ NHCS report cited by Univision. Brown sees this as an opportunity and plans to utilize the network’s many platforms to increase its reach. “I think there’s a lot more bandwidth,” he says.

Brown’s peers, many of whom he has known professionally for more than 25 years, believe the job at Univision allows him to utilize both his skills and experience. “[He is] very comfortable in different cultures, and understands sports across different cultures,” says Zucker.

Brown still plays in a masters lacrosse league, roots for his beloved Baltimore sports teams, enjoys duck hunting and plays a number of sports with his wife, Tori. Brown’s two kids are also budding athletes, so much of his winters are spent running around hockey rinks and on lacrosse and field hockey fields. And even as a parental spectator, Brown’s passion for sports is palpable. “I just love watching my kids compete,” he says.

Related