It's often said that the job of any company president is to take a 10,000-ft. view of the business. Turner Sports president Lenny Daniels takes that idea literally.
An outdoor enthusiast, Daniels is a licensed private pilot, though he admits life has made him a bit more grounded of late. “I don’t fly as much now that I have kids,” he says, adding that he’s traded some of his blue-sky views for the water, taking his two children out on his boat. “I used to fly all the time.”
When Daniels is on solid ground, he runs the sports arena he inherited from David Levy in July, after Levy moved up to Turner Broadcasting president.
“He displays leadership that, honestly, we need in this organization,” says Levy of his successor.
Having been with Turner since 1995, Daniels knows better than most the importance of the NBA. Turner Sports has been a rights holder for the league since 1988 and NBA on TNT is the network’s longest-running program. Given live sports’ value and today’s timeshifted realities, keeping the league was a top priority. In one of his first major undertakings, Daniels helped lock in a nine-year renewal with the NBA that will keep pro basketball on TNT well through the next decade.
Daniels admits that even before he was named president, he was already hard at work in negotiations with Bill Koenig, NBA president of global media distribution. Turner first approached the league about a new deal in February during All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, a few weeks after Adam Silver took over as commissioner. “We really did take the lead with the NBA constantly throughout the whole thing,” Daniels says, noting it took a lot of nights and weekends spent to get the new contract done.
Levy credits Daniels for doing much of the legwork during the eight-monthlong negotiation, saying, “He was really the point person for me.”
Daniels’ on-court success extends past the pro game: He also masterminded Turner’s “Teamcast” of last spring’s NCAA men’s basketball Final Four. For the two national semifinal contests, Turner aired three different versions of both games—a national telecast on TBS and separate broadcasts on truTV and TNT that were specifically geared toward each participating college team.
Daniels wanted to give hometown fans the best experience possible for Turner’s Final Four debut. “If you really are a Duke fan, for example, you may want to watch and listen to your telecast that’s very slanted one way,” he says.
However, Daniels wanted viewers to get the full experience no matter which channel they were watching. “We don’t want to create something that makes you turn to a lesser experience,” he says.
Turner will have the Final Four again in 2015, and Daniels is optimistic about another Teamcast. “We are planning on it, but we haven’t committed to it officially,” he says. Turner ended up averaging 14 million viewers for its two Final Four games across TBS, TNT and truTV.
Beyond the hardwood, Daniels was also a key player in Turner’s acquisition of popular website Bleacher Report and the net’s rights extension with Major League Baseball—no surprise for a man who was trained to look at all aspects of the game. The exec got his start doing graphics for the 10 p.m. news at WTVJ in Miami. “I always wanted to work in TV production,” he says.
When Daniels first took his talents to South Beach, the station was an affiliate of CBS. In 1987 WTVJ was acquired by NBC—an event that would have a major impact on Daniels’ career.
When NBC broadcast the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Daniels went oversees to do graphics for rowing and kayaking. He was asked back in 1992 for the Barcelona Games before leaving for ESPN for three years to direct SportsCenter and NFL Primetime. Daniels eventually returned to NBC on a freelance basis to direct Olympics coverage in 2000 and 2002. The experience helped him understand sport’s place in an all-too complicated world.
“At the end of the day, your lead story is how many points somebody scored,” he says. “It isn’t the 6 p.m. news, where it’s how many people got killed.”