Showtime sports chief Ken Hershman desperately wanted boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao’s May 7 fight against Shane Mosley. And when he found out he’d won the rights to distribute it via payper- view, it sank in pretty quickly.
“When we found out we got it we got everyone in a room, and there was definitely a look of excitement, and fear at the same time,” he says.
These days, there isn’t much time for either. Besides getting ready for what could be the biggest fight of the year, Showtime’s sports division is on a roll. With assets connected to the NFL, NASCAR, Major League Baseball and mixed martial arts, Hershman’s portfolio doesn’t leave much time for reflection.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed, but in a good way,” he says. “There are new challenges every day.”
Born into a family of lawyers, Hershman began his career headed in that direction. During law school at Fordham, he interned with an organized crime strike force in Brooklyn, but was low enough on the totem pole that he didn’t need to have other people starting his car for him. “No one knew or cared who I was,” the Long Island, N.Y., native says with a laugh.
While he applied for jobs in district attorney’s offices, at the last second he “sold out for the money,” he says, and joined a law firm where he worked for clients ranging from Morgan Stanley to Rite Aid.
He liked the work, but was working 80 to 100 hours a week, and his judge and jury turned out to be his spouse. “My wife laid down the law and said, ‘Find something to do with more sane hours, or forget it with me,’” he recalls.
Through his company connections to Viacom, he landed at Showtime, whose legal department he would work in for eight years until he shifted over to the sports division. That grew into more of a business affairs role, and eventually to taking over the department.
And while the division started off as a support to Showtime’s boxing events, it has blossomed into a place that is willing to spend on big-ticket items like major boxing events and shows such as Inside the NFL, which it landed after HBO let it go. And Hershman acknowledges that his ability to write big checks is a direct result of Showtime’s entertainment division.
“Because of the success of the original programming that the West Coast has put out, and the success of our sales group, it’s allowed us to invest the way we have,” he says. “Thank you Dexter, thank you Michael C. Hall. No question that drives our business.”
The Strikeforce MMA franchise and the NFL and NASCAR shows are big players, but Hershman’s attention right now is also on a new documentary-style show that will follow MLB’s champion San Francisco Giants. While a few media reports made it seem like some Giants players had balked at the idea, Hershman says everyone is now on board.
“I don’t think they really understood exactly what it was, and there was some miscommunication about what we were up to and [what] our goals were,” he says. “There wasn’t any great drama involved. MLB has done a great job in walking them through what they should expect. We’re hoping to have other teams knocking at our door to be next.”
Given the huge fights Showtime has coming up, and a Hard Knocks–type show also on the way, some might think the network is gunning for HBO Sports. Hershman tries to shoot that notion down.
“I don’t ever think of it that way— it’s usually not a productive way of running your business,” he says.
Besides, he is focusing a lot of his attention now on the big May 7 Pacquiao- Mosley fight. Hershman believes that later this year or early next, Pacquiao will finally take on Floyd Mayweather Jr. And he says he “would feel very confident [Showtime] would have that fight.”
Outside of boxing, Hershman will also explore opportunities for synergy with the newly rebranded CBS Sports Network; he is to meet soon with that network’s chief, David Berson.
In other words, there is plenty to keep Ken Hershman occupied.
“I’m pretty satisfied with what we have right now,” he says. “We’re in conversations all the time, but we have enough to work on.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman
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