Q&A: Mickey Charles, The Sports Network

Sport Business News

MEI talks to Mickey Charles, president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US.

Why did you launch The Sports Network? "Because there was an obvious need dictated by the fact that a single company, at that point in time, had an apparent monopolistic 'hold' of sorts on the industry combined with what we refer to in the US as 'attitude', much the same as we are experiencing competitively today frankly. It was also the result of being informed by the then president of that organisation that I could never do it. Could anyone replicate what we accomplished then without funding, any capital to speak of and nothing but 'chutzpah'? Unlikely. Could they do it with resources and technology available today? Probably but at an enormous cost, and the prospect of reinventing the wheel when we exist is not practical. As the only privately held organisation in what is a small industry today we raise many prospects for huge organisations that want to settle on our turf. Oh yes, the company that stimulated us with 'It cannot be done' no longer exists. " Please describe what The Sports Network does. "All comments to the contrary notwithstanding, The Sports Network is the US' foremost international real–time sports wire service furnishing a literal plethora of content on a 24/7 basis using state–of–the–art technology that is, literally and unabashedly, years ahead of any present or anticipated competitive offering. TSN's website, www. sportsnetwork. com, contains voluminous proprietary data regarding sports on both a domestic and international level including, but not limited to, baseball, basketball, football, hockey, auto racing, boxing, golf, tennis, rugby, Olympics, soccer and very much more while also embodying the collegiate market regarding basketball, football, lascrosse and, soon, high school sports in the US. TSN's site prohibits users from, among other things, copying and reselling any of its data, information or statistics and our proprietary sports news data incorporates and extends to such areas of coverage as scores, trends, analysis, news, features, statistics, pre and post–game reports, box scores, historical data, odds, extensive fantasy data and more supportive coverage of special events globally (over 50 such sports occurrences) combined with every widget imaginable than any competitor. Sportsnetwork. com is one of the most accessed websites on the internet and TSN currently brands sports pages for sites numbering in excess of 2, 000 while furnishing satellite transmitted data and online transmission to a host of organisations in North America and abroad, from sports and fantasy sites to mobile and special applications via such methodologies as social sports offerings. Our elasticity and accommodation permits us to address just about any project that a prospect or client undertakes. " How has 2008–09 been for TSN? "That's like asking someone who is quarantined what he or she thinks of this particular circumstance when they are posing the question from the bed nearby. We have not been immune from the financial malaise that has swept across the planet but we have not only managed to survive but have grown in spite of it. The reasons for this are simple. . . catering to the needs and constraints of clients and prospects and finding a rush to us by clients caught up in the wake of one of the organisations that was competitive to us at one time being absorbed the other. You might ask 'Why? ' and that is understandable and expected. The response is the reluctance of many to deal with attitude, inflated pricing, unacceptable contractual demands and much less than we are able to offer. We, for example, believe that we are tasked by our client base with growth, expansion, continuous additions regarding coverage, timeliness and technology. The key words are retention and incremental. We focus on service and retaining clients and do not believe you can do that by charging for every incremental addition made. We are supposed to do more for our clients and that has served us well despite the current financial state of industry, from sports to auto manufacturing and banks. " What makes a sports website great in your opinion? "Interesting question. Some have existed on 'name value' and drawing users to them because of their marketing capabilities that are blatantly evident–such as ESPN, Yahoo!, MSNBC, Sports Illustrated, CBS SportsLine, AOL, and a few others, whether they have what the users are desirous of finding upon arrival or not. Reach out to the public with enormous marketing and promotional capabilities and they will come. It is difficult to compete with their reach or the cost of same. On the other hand, the internet is a fascinating destination and vehicle for the discovery of desirable data with users worldwide able to research, source and find the destinations that suit their needs best. They find us, by the millions, and the unique users we have, the page views that are access monthly will attest to that. Additionally, ours is not a site drowning in a morass of self–adulation and praise, overflowing with items that are of no interest to the user. Our current design has drawn a literal standing ovation from around the globe. We offer accuracy, depth of content, ease of navigation, immediacy and reliability, design, growth, responsiveness to users and we do not dismiss their suggestions/ideas/ commentary. We embrace it. Couple that with ongoing research, superior technology, finding what you want in two clicks. . . three at most but only in unusual cases, offering all of our data at no charge without hidden costs, pleasing (believe it or not) colours, excellent layout of content/graphics/navigation, absence of clutter and, among other things, a continuing review of one's efforts. It is, and always has been, what we refer to as a 'street mentality', thinking like the users and not like a corporate collection of administrators that looks down upon them from the white tower of disdain. " What are the main data copyright issues that you have to deal with in the US in particular? "We do not have to deal with any in the context within which I believe you have asked. We are the originators of the material on our site regarding that which is copyrightable by ourselves and we provide accreditation to any other features, news, and the like that are sourced elsewhere. In other words, the information on our site, and that which is transmitted to our vast array of clients, is created by in–house staff for the most part. No copyright issues exist with regard to sourced statistics; photograph use is permissioned under contract and credit, as noted, is given at all times when called for. That with which we must realistically deal from time to time is use of our own copyrighted materials by others. . . i. e. , their unauthorised use. " How does the market for online sports data services in the US differ to other major markets in the world? "In the briefest of responses, we are dealing with a much larger user base, infinitely so, and likely the largest market in the world for that which we provide. It was somewhat competitive, with three vying for clients to whom to license content use. When it comes to use of the site by the market, www. sportsnetwork. com has always stood above the others, and continues to do so. With the industry now in the hands of two organisations, it has become an even more competitive marketplace for procurement of clients. But, as it relates to user eyeballs and attention on a site, we defer to only the largest 'players' on the internet, already mentioned, and to no others. Are there some 'pretenders to the throne', organisations that access data from others, even ourselves (and our competition)? Of course, but they are, candidly, inconsequential and would cease to exist absent providers to them. Additionally, our users who, in the main, are North American–based, are not particularly interested in rugby or cricket although we do cater to the former user base by offering the most comprehensive international rugby informational package available anywhere. And our international soccer is superior to anything found by those in the US (and, in many cases, elsewhere), likely on a par with any other in Europe with, perhaps, an isolated exception or two. The bottom line is that we have more sports in the US, it is non–stop throughout the year – baseball, football, hockey, basketball. . . collegiate and professional levels for all, golf, tennis, boxing, auto racing (the largest consumer and viewed/attended sport in America), horse racing and more with our recently adding bowling, lacrosse, skiing. Of course, there is also our huge coverage of the Olympics to which, for every one of them...both summer and winter, we send our own staff members for coverage. Everything on our site is available to any client and our recent addition of gamecasts for baseball, basketball, football and hockey are without equal. " What are your company's aspirations globally? "To continue to grow and accommodate the market and our clients. We are more flexible and receptive to the needs of the users and clients than any other organisation attempting to compete with us. Our philosophy is to listen, discuss and employ whenever it makes sense to do so. That reputation has led to ongoing growth. Our success is not followed by our being dismissive. Au contraire, it is because of our sensitivity to input, suggestions, advice, and requests. It is because of our accessibility, willingness to change and a perspicacious attitude. We will stay on track and make pit stops whenever necessary. Our aspirations are to cater to whatever is needed and the opportunistic globally which is why we are now providing our content to tens, hundreds, of millions of mobile users in South–east Asia with plans to expand that elsewhere. " If you had a wish–list for new clients, who would be on it and why? "You have just 'trespassed' upon our business plan and this interview cannot, sadly, contain all that information but we can certainly divulge and explore some of it. The sought after new clients are already speaking with us, telling us what they would like, providing us with their wish lists which, of course, leads to the formation of our own. Our focus encompasses the internet primarily and a vast world beyond it, as large as it is. We think, for example, that mobile can eclipse the potential of the internet. Fantasy will continue to grow for all sports, the iPhone has opened vistas calling for Captain Kirk and Dr Spock, sports versions of MySpace and FaceBook await, we believe that 'success spoils' and it is time for the AOLs, Yahoo!s, Googles of the world to rethink their approach to sports and, where they are already utilising it to their advantage, not believe that they are anywhere near the limits of what can be done. Newspapers are suffering mightily from loss of revenue and they can either close, limit operations, curtail their offerings or turn to the digital content world of the Internet and create revenue based (advertising) product, which their print efforts are not doing right now. With our offering them 150, 000 plus pages of content daily, offering realisable budget conscious content, they can do this. They cannot vacillate, procrastinate, delay. Time is of the essence. They know it, you know it and we know it. Recipients of our content, of our efforts, are not limited to sites on the internet. People want many things in their quest for knowledge, instant and long range – the vessels for learning, for acquiring, can never be full for any appreciable length of time. We intend to fill, and refill, them as often as possible. It is just a matter of who drinks and how much they imbibe at a particular point in time. " How do you think technology has improved sport? "In our case, technology has improved sport, amazingly so, particularly relative to how we acquire, format and distribute our content. In the case of sports, it is an ongoing process removing the foibles and inaccuracies of human error which, contrary to the opinions of some, do not make the sport, any sport, better on the field of play. . . from soccer and rugby to tennis and golf, and on to baseball, basketball, football (ours) and hockey. We carry that thinking to our product. . . i. e. , there is no margin for error. Will that dictum stop it entirely within our organisation? I hope so but realize that to be wishful thinking so we concentrate on minimising it, mostly through perfecting. Perfection, in as many ways as possible, is a human necessity and the errors of referees, judges, arbiters of any sport do not make it more human...they make it more inaccurate, inconsistent and fraught with frailty. Technology negates that and sport, in my opinion, is much the better for it. Regarding the reporting of sports, as we do in every manner imaginable . . . with content that is, seemingly, unending, technology allows us to reach anyone, anywhere, at any time, with instant news, scores, statistics. . . whether Manchester United has won, which players the New York Yankees has acquired, what city has won the rights to the Olympics, whether Tiger Woods has again made it to the final pairing and endlessly on. Technology allows us to cater to our clients in fashions they would not believe. For example, the erroneous thought that conversion from a competitive and not as complete a service as our own will take time and expense. Our staff can come in and seamlessly accomplish that transition within weeks, not months; days, not weeks; and hours, not days. It all depends upon what they have, needs to be replaced and/or what we are adding. Yes, we are that good with a track record of having done this a number of times, much to the satisfaction and, frankly, pleasing amazement of our client(s). " What's next for your company and the industry in general in your opinion? "Growth, growth, growth. How is that to be accomplished in light of the recession that is, contrary to published optimistic reports, bordering on depression? Sports is forever. It does not close down. It is escapism during these times, as are going to the movies, dining out (not too expensively) and finding more family leisurely activities that do not break the bank. The industry will minimise and find its level, as it recently did, with one organisation no longer able to take the heat in the kitchen. For our industry what might occur are continued amalgamation, acquisition, merger and putting sources together to create stronger companies. . . addressing some smaller niche operations. We, The Sports Network, other than some small, very small, content sources of segmented matters, are the only major privately–held company in the industry. We continue to grow and what that means to us at present is unknown but we would certainly entertain dialogue and vision, as we are doing now, from potential suitors. There is no secret about that but such a comment is not seeking solicitation, only stating fact. Ours is a very small fishbowl with few swimming in it and we fancy ourselves the prettiest of the two gold fish remaining in the bowl. The bowl itself might become larger, as well as its occupants, but the number swimming about is not about to change, certainly not any time soon. I am not sure I know what is next but I am most anxious to entertain and address it as it evolves and comes our way. If I were a seer I would be at the track, not responding to your questions. The industry, whether it is gaming, gambling, entertainment, news or others that require the sort of instant sports data we provide will grow, and grow, and grow. . . sort of what evolved when Jack tossed those beans out of the window. We will still be there in the morning, climbing up the vine, growing with it. I am not sure there is a definitive 'next' but there is a very real future. As James Bond's fourth adventure advised, 'Diamonds are forever', so too is sports. Sports is enduring, consuming and pleasurable. It is the elixir for what ails us at a given moment. Our function is to provide it in abundance, instantly. In that fashion, we grow and the industry grows through those who are the purveyors and messengers of the content, the express couriers to the public by whatever vehicle(s) they have and employ. " For further information about The Sports Network, visit www. sportsnetwork. com. 2200 Byberry Rd. Hatboro, PA 19040 Tel: +1 (215) 441–8444 Fax: +1 (215) 441–5767

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