When Lenny Daniels was promoted to president of Turner Sports in 2014, he got a call from NBA Hall of Famer turned Turner basketball analyst Charles Barkley.
“It’s got a lot of cuss words in it. I still have it on my voice mail,” Daniels says. “It was really a heartfelt message that I’ll never forget. He was one of the first people to call and he did it in his own way, and it meant a lot. I can’t repeat it, but it was all good.”
Daniels joined Turner as a director in 1996 following stints at NBC Sports and ESPN. He helped negotiate major sports rights deals, including the 2010 agreement with CBS to share college basketball’s March Madness that puts the April 4 men’s championship game on Turner’s networks. The game will mark the first time Turner has televised the crowning of a champion in a major sporting event.
An edited version of Daniels’ conversation with B&C business editor Jon Lafayette follows.
How does having the NCAA basketball championship game affect Turner and Turner Sports?
It’s by far the biggest thing to happen to Turner in many, many years. From a business point of view, it is clearly important. But from a morale point of view and a culture point of view, it’s a sense of pride that is what really permeates throughout this entire building and this entire company.
Where are you going to be on Monday, April 4?
I’ll be in Houston. Before the game, I’ll probably be in the truck just wandering around. I don’t like to stand over people. I came from a production background, so the guys who produce the shows are the guys who produce the shows. They’re ready to go. I’m just there for moral support. When I’m [at a game], it’s usually just to help out if there’s a problem. And hang out with sales clients and the like.
Once they play ‘One Shining Moment’ to cap off the tournament, what’s next?
That’s kind of my job now. You get everything set, you put the right people in place and then you move on to the next thing. We’re looking forward to the NBA playoffs. We are already thinking about what’s going on with eLeague, our new [online game] partnership with IMG-WME. We’re building a studio, the teams are signed up. It’s been pretty seamless. And that’s going to be very cool.
Do you play video games?
I do not. I’m trying to learn, and it’s not easy. If you don’t play Counterstrike, you don’t understand what you’re looking at when you’re watching the game. But what I find interesting is in dealing with these athletes—in my mind they truly are athletes—you can learn a lot from them even though they’re 18, 19, 20 years old. What we’re doing is storytelling. You’re exposing what they do, how they think, what they feel to a consumer that doesn’t understand it. And that’s what we’re really good at.
While you’re doing all these exciting things, what makes you nervous about the business?
It’s the ecosystem and what’s going on in the world of media. What we always do here at Turner is to innovate and be first and look ahead and try to figure out what’s changing. And one of the things is connected devices. How is sports going to play on connected devices and in a connected home?. It’s a little scary at times, but I don’t look at it as a problem. I look at it as an opportunity.