Tag Archives: Walter_Byers

February 14, 1979 – NCAA Contract Drafting and Getty Says “Almost Yes”

Shawnee Mission, Kansas – What a great feeling walking into NCAA Headquarters today. The decision to move forward and have attorneys start drafting an agreement was almost anticlimactic. I was sitting in a contract meeting to acquire the most significant programming available and it was happening just nine months after being fired by the Whalers…and only four and a half months after om Hansen had told us that our idea could not be presented until the January 1980 NCAA Convention. Writing this today I still find it remarkable that all of the pieces came together so quickly – although at the time desperation made it all feel agonizingly slow.

Happy as I was to be sitting with attorneys for both sides actually talking contract language, more good news arrived about ninety minutes later. Walter’s assistant came in and told me I had a phone call waiting. The caller turned out to be George Conner and his message set the stage for the rest of the day. He said that Getty’s strategy committee had given the go-ahead for investing in our network. He asked if I could fly to Los Angeles after our meeting with the NCAA and then added, “Tentatively, I’d say congratulations are in order.” Wow!

As I returned to the meeting, Walter asked, “Good news?” JB was curious too. I filled them in on the conversation with George. Needless to say from that point forward the meeting proceeded with a vibrant new feeling of confidence on both sides.

I couldn’t wait for the meeting to end and get outside – jump n the air and click my heels. What a Valentine’s Day! Ninety minutes and a half continent apart,  two “yeses” propelled us to new heights of happiness when less than 24 hours earlier JB didn’t even want to make the trip. Ours was definitely not a business for the faint-hearted.

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February 7, 1979 – On the Road to Texas Cable Show

Shawnee Mission, Kansas – Walter Byers was all smiles as he greeted us. He was clearly enthusiastic about the plans we had for NCAA programming and we dove right into more details.

Knowing we were enroute to the Annual Texas Cable Sow in San Antonio tomorrow, I just had to ask Walter again if we could say anything about our discussions. Last week’s “It might be possible,” answer was now improved to, “What’s it worth to you?”

Walter knew we had virtually no money and that without Getty, we would be out of business. this was the classic “chicken and egg” discussion: Walter wanted to confirm Getty’s investment before committing; and Getty wanted to confirm NCAA programming before committing.

After some banter about a check or wire transfer of cash he knew we didn’t have, Walter decided to make the first move. I asked, “What about a little something to read tomorrow…?” He replied, “OK, let’s see what we can put together.”

We spent some time drafting a vague release that said we “might” reach an agreement soon, but that was more than enough for us as we headed for San Antonio.

January 31, 1979 – Getting Serious with the NCAA in Shawnee Mission

Shawnee Mission, Kansas – No TV Committee this time. Walter Byers was very much in charge of the meeting attended by the NCAA’s Tom Hansen and Dennis Cryder, JB and me. That’s all. We spent virtually the entire day discussing possible scenarios for an arrangement.

Walter was extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities. He and I explored all sorts of subjects including scheduling. production, promotion, advertising, cable systems, subscriber charges and finances.

Late in the discussion I said, “The annual Texas Cable show is next week in San Antonio, Walter. It’s the third largest industry show each year. If we’re going o do something, that would be a great place to announce it. Is that possible?” I asked.

To my utter amazement and absolute delight, Walter hinted, “It might be. We have a lot of work to do, but it’s possible. Can you come back here next week on your way to the show?”

“Absolutely! I’ll even bring some stationary; then, if we agree on something, we can do a press release on the spot. Is Wednesday morning good for you?”

“Yes – we’ll see you then,” Walter concluded.

How about that!!!! It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already been a great week…Budeiser and the NCAA two days apart saying very strong and positive things..Advertising and content becoming a reality. The E. S. P. Network was gaining some very strong legs with each passing week.

January 29, 1979 – Budweiser – YES! $1,380,000 Largest Cable Ad Buy To Date

New York, New York – Our scheduled meeting with Gene Petrillo at D’Arcy was short and sweet…very sweet! Bob Chamberlain and I had driven to the city early Monday morning and delivered an update on our activities since we had met a week ago.

Gene was impressed – especially with the NCAA progress and then he startled us when he asked, “How does $1,380,000 sound for our 1/8 package?” (Bob had called him after our meeting last week and declined the $500,000 opening offer.)

How does it sound? “Great” we chorused.

Gene emphasized, “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and you have to get your house in order, but I want you to know we’re interested. Furthermore, if you have any interest from any other beer sponsors, please call me. I want that exclusive.”

Talk about a great way to start a week! Better yet – we were now in an even stronger position for our upcoming meeting with Walter Byers at NCAA Headquarters dy after tomorrow.

January 25, 1979 – Huge NCAA TV Committee Meeting!

Kansas City, Missouri – We arrived for our meeting on time at the Kansas City Airport Marriott and about a minute later, we found out who our competition for the NCAA cable contract was. Dennis Cryder informed us that ATC was making a presentation just 30 feet away inside the TV Committee meeting room. That nugget of knowledge really puzzled George Conner, JB Doherty and me, but it did explain why the ATC folks had been so cautious in their meeting with us in Denver last month.

Further, I couldn’t understand the NCAA’s dilemma. Since ATC was an MSO, obviously some other MSOs would find it difficult to do business with them should they be awarded an NCAA contract. However, the big difference was that ATC would only reach its own systems and try to entice competitors to do business with them. We treated all MSOs the same and they were all going to be our customers…even ATC.

We later discovered that they proposed to do 100 live nightly events…about 300 hours of programming a year. Our proposal was for hundreds of events and 8,760 hours a year using ATC and all of the other MSOs to distribute our service.

Clearly, the TV Committee was “comparing apples and oranges” which they quickly grasped as we made our presentation. We also subliminally suggested we had major financing close at hand when I introduced George by his formal title: Financial Manager – Real Estate and Forest Products Division of Getty Oil. Nothing more – nothing less! Best to let individual imaginations reach their own conclusions as to George’s presence.

JB and I reviewed our progress since the last meeting and then, at last, Walter Byers spoke his first words to us. Never moving in his chair, he lowered his head, peered over his glasses and chided, “Seems to me like you’re looking for a hunting license. We give you a contract, and you go out looking for money, advertisers and cable customers.”

JB answered, “Tha’s not quite right, Mr. Byers. However, we must have some sort of indication or committment to satisfy our investors and the cable industry that we mean business.”

Walter challenged, “Suppose we give you a committment, and you go out hunting and don’t come up with the money…how do we know we’ll get paid?”

My turn to answer! “You name the bank and we’ll put 50 percent of the agreed contract price in escrow on July 1.”

The room was silent. JB stared at the floor; George stared at JB and swears he turned chalk-white; the committee members stared t each other, but Walter and I never broke eye contact. “Well, if you can do that , it sounds pretty good to me. We’ll have to think about it.”

No more questions.

Once we reached the hotel lobby, JB recovered his voice and asked, “Why did you say that? We might not even be around by July.”

“What was I supposed to say? Besides, July is a long way off and we’ll have the money by then” (Ever the optimist)!

I actually was a little concerned that I might have given George something bad to report back to Getty, but before we had time to worry about too many things, Tom Hansen came looking for us and asked if we could come to the NCAA office next Wednesday…seems Walter wanted to talk some more without the formality of the TV Committee. We quickly agreed and George and I headed for Los Angeles, JB back to Philadelphia; and we were still alive.

December 12, 1978 – First Meeting With NCAA TV Committee

Kansas City, Missouri – Today was our chance to “meet the boys” of the NCAA TV Committee. We met several committee members on the way into the meeting as they were enjoying a coffee break prior to our presentation at 9:00AM.

We cued up our demonstration tape – a five-minute visual explanation of several points of our proposal along with a 3′ x 4′ map of the United States showing the distribution of current cable systems and we were ready to go. As I glanced around the room I was disappointed to note that Walter Byers was nowhere in sight.

In  his gracious manner, Bo introduced JB and me to the committee members and to my pleasant surprise, I noticed that Mr. Byers had arrived and taken the empty chair next to the legendary Texas football coach Darrel Royal. Both sides of the rectangular meeting setup were full, But directly in front of me sat Byers and Royal.

Listening to Bo’s introduction, I must admit that I was momentarily intimidated by the sight of he two powerful men facing me. Stern, sincere Royal, arms folded across his chest, studied us with a non-committal look. Even more imposing, the fabled NCAA czar, Byers, with his shock of white hair  and equally impassive expression, waited for my presentation. Bo concluded his intro and we were on.

I told the same story I had told the day before at Getty and essentially told all these NCAA heavyweights what a great new thing we were planning for them. The excitement and enthusiasm were all one way. The reception of the presentation was polite and courteous with a few general questions and it was over. It should be be noted that neither Byers or Royal said a word…matter of fact their expressions barely changed throughout the presentation.

That was it. Bo thanked us and from his comments and some of the questions asked, we had an idea that we would be back for another meeting. Bo repeated his earlier comment about having a great idea and said Tom Hansen would be in touch. That ended the morning and JB and I were off to Denver to talk to the biggest cable TV Multiple System Operators (MSOs).

Wow…think about this: Monday at Getty to talk money; Tuesday with the NCAA TV Committee to talk programming; and Wednesday with cable TV’s corporate elite to talk customers.

Read the full story of the race to create ESPN at http://espnfounder.com/sjr_discount2011.htm. It’s a great holiday gift for the ESPN fans in your life.