The Digital Sports Revolution. Over the past several years, I’ve frequently lectured, participated in conference panels, blogged, etc about the history and evolution of the Sports sector in the internet / new media / digital media space (the terms change over the years so I’ll refer to it as Digital Media). 1995 was the first year that the Digital Sports space really started to formulate. That’s also the same year I went to work for a fairly small online company in Tysons Corner, Virginia called America Online.
I have enjoyed blogging over the past few years but I have not blogged that much in the past year. It is so much easier to quickly post comments on Facebook or bang out a quick Tweet. Back in June ’11, I had a fun time writing a blog every day for the month of June (about what I like about living in Washington, DC). So, now I thought I’d do something fun. I’m going to blog regularly about the history of evolution of AOL Sports. These written words will be completely my personal thoughts and memories. This goes back over the past two decades so I’m sure I won’t have all of the facts correct. But, I think it could be an interesting exercise — and I encourage interaction from friends and students in this space — as well as anyone that has interest in this topic. Again, these are just my personal thoughts and does not have anything official to do with any company or organization.
First, I want to provide context and background information about myself and why I went to work for AOL in the Spring ’95. I went to American University and got my BA in Communications in ’85 and then a MBA in Marketing in ’89. While at AU, I also did a number of internships in radio — I did 5 to 6 internships at WPGC-FM, WRQX-FM (Q107) and WMAL-AM. I also DJ’ed throughout my college years as well as through the 90’s. I DJ’ed a wide variety of functions but my specialty was DJ’ing weddings (approximately 500 wedding receptions over a 18-year period).
After graduating with my MBA in ’89, the legendary GM of WMAL-AM 630, Andy Ockershausen, introduced me to his close friend, the PR legend, Charlie Brotman. Charlie ran the best PR sports agency in the DC — clients included boxing champions — Sugar Ray Leonard and Riddick Bowe — as as the local PGA golf tournament, local men’s and women’s professional tennis tournaments, etc. Although I had my MBA (and was in $50k in debt), I really wanted to follow my passion of working in the Sports industry. After a number of informational interviews, it was clear to me that to work in Sports, if one did not have any experience. one had to pretty much start at the bottom (particularly since so many people wanted to work in this type of fun and entertaining industry).
So, I started interning for Brotman and Associates in ’89 (no pay) and then worked at WMAL radio a few nights a week as a producer, r.e. screen caller, for Ken Beatrice Sports Talk show (I think it paid $6.00 or $6.50 per hour). And, then I DJ’ed on the weekends. The internship turned into a job later in ’89. It was a terrific experience – in particular learning about the importance of networking and relationship building.
In Sept ’90, I then had the opportunity to become the Promotion Manager for the CBS Radio owned and operation station, W-Lite FM, in Rockville, MD. That also was a terrific experience — learning about the operations of running the marketing and promotions of a radio station in a major market. I also met a number of friends who are life-long friends. After 3+ years, I left to become the Marketing Manager at Home Team Sports (HTS), the regional sports network serving the Mid-Atlantic region. We were the cable broadcast partner for the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Bullets (before they changed to Wizards), Washington Capitals and a wide variety of collegiate sports programming. Switching from radio to TV was not easy but it made me go outside of my comfort zone, learn a new medium and made another a number of terrific long-term friendships.
Those years were excellent for my personal growth as I learned in detail about the operations of two mainstream traditional mediums …. radio and TV. But, as a marketer, I started to get frustrated since each year because the marketing plan didn’t evolve that much. As I was told my management (not just locally, but nationally), “this is the way the business is done.” So, year after year, we implemented the same type of marketing plan. For a regional sports TV network, it was to run on-air TV promos, print ads in local newspaper, :15 and :30 radio spots, outdoor billboard ads, etc.
As a marketer, I totally understood the strategic marketing plans we put into place year after year. But, I was looking for something different — for my company as well as for myself. How could I / we differentiate our company? How could I differentiate myself? The career path for a marketing or promotions person can be fairly limited so one does need to think outside the box. That’s when AOL and the internet came into play. I will blog about the beginnings of this venture in the next posting.
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