Tracy Dolgin's career has not gone according to plan. "Every place I have gone in my career, I went having had no experience doing it," says the president of Fox Sports Net. "I have sort of made a career of falling into things."
After graduating from Cornell University in 1981, he headed west to Stanford University's business school, thinking to get into the entertainment business. "I had spent my entire life on the East Coast," says Dolgin, who grew up in Miami and later in New York City. "I didn't know Stanford was, like, a thousand miles away from Hollywood."
Having earned his M.B.A., he wound up about as far from the entertainment industry as possible: as an assistant product manager for General Foods' Jell-O in Westchester County, N.Y.
Three years later, with newly acquired knowledge of branding, Dolgin got his first opportunity in the entertainment industry, becoming a marketing manager for start-up home-video company Thorne EMI-HBO Video. "On the very day I started there," he says, "The Hollywood Reporter
had a front-page story that read, 'Canon buys Thorne EMI and vows to shut down home video division.'"
Dolgin and his colleagues persuaded Canon executives to keep the division open. Besides selling HBO original productions, it handled video sales for an array of independent studios and often helped market their theatrical releases.
When HBO bought Canon out in 1989, Dolgin stayed on as senior vice president of marketing at newly minted HBO Video. Three years later, he got the "call that was too good to be true."
Film director George Lucas wanted Dolgin to run his consumer-products company in northern California. He was to get an ownership stake, lots of money and a return to the San Francisco Bay Area. He persuaded his wife, Judy, to move and took the job.
On the day after he had moved to California, he was given some bad news. "They called me in and told me basically that the job I was hired for no longer existed," he says. "They were getting rid of a lot of the divisions that I was going to run."
The next day, he and his wife were on a plane back to New York. As luck would have it, start-up network Fox Broadcasting Co. needed a marketing chief. "I figured," he says, "if these idiots were stupid enough to give me a job as the head of marketing for a TV network, never having worked in TV before, I had to take it."
Dolgin returned to the West, to Los Angeles, and launched The X-Files, Melrose Place
and other series at Fox. He also helped convince the NFL that Fox was the right place for the NFC broadcast contract and worked himself into the top marketing position at Fox Sports, where he spent three years getting Fox Sports' coverage of professional football, hockey and baseball off the ground—and revolutionizing sports marketing.
"Nobody had ever branded sports by the network," he says. "We basically came to sports and said we are going to do it this way. We were going to make sports Fox-like."
Dolgin helped Fox Sports move into cable and became chief operating officer at Fox Liberty Networks, overseeing FX, Fox Sports Net and several other new cable networks. In 2000, he was named president of Fox Sports Net, with responsibility for 21 regional cable networks.
Last month, Fox Sports canceled its nightly national sports-highlights program, created to take on ESPN's successful SportsCenter. The goal now is programming to entertain sports fans. "We really tried to do a traditional sports business and put the Fox Sports name on it," Dolgin says. "Instead of doing what we did before, which was sort of reinventing the wheel, we copied the wheel. Now we are trying go back to what works, and we are already seeing a lot of positive signs."