When Sean McManus, president
of CBS Sports since
1996, also took the helm of
CBS News in October 2005,
he attempted to break the
ice at his first news division
meeting with a joke. It was
baseball playoffs season, and he empathically suggested that
that night’s CBS Evening News lead with baseball scores.
“Everyone looked at me in horror,” laughs McManus.
The “sports guy” had infiltrated the network’s storied
news division, rendering everyone’s crystal ball just a
little cloudy. “A lot of people wondered, could a sports
guy come over and run the news division,” says Bob
Schieffer, CBS’ chief Washington correspondent and
anchor of Face the Nation. “I never really wondered
about that because I knew Sean’s father, Jim McKay,
and I knew his values and what a great journalist he
was. Sean had the right genes.”
McManus approached the job with a respect and seriousness
of purpose gleaned over a lifetime. The son
of legendary ABC sportscaster McKay (who changed
his on-air name in 1950) and trailblazing newspaper
reporter Margaret Dempsey, McManus’ career may be
a study in destiny.
“I was in production trucks at the age of 8, travelling
with my father,” recalls McManus. “Many of the lessons
I still use today; good storytelling, good writing —which
he was fanatical about—being accurate, being a journalist rst and a sports commentator second. Those are lessons I
learned from him almost by the time I could walk.”
McManus’ 14-year tenure at CBS Sports began with the
restoration of the NFL to the network in 1998 and has unfolded
with a list of similarly auspicious rights packages: a
landmark 15-year extension with the Southeastern Conference
(SEC) that will keep the games on CBS through the
2023-24 season; a $10.8 billion, 14-year, rights-sharing
deal with Turner on NCAA men’s basketball.
“CBS Sports would not have been the same if Sean did
not bring the NFL back,” says Jim Nantz, the network’s
lead NFL play-by-play announcer. “It kept us whole.”
McManus admits that his stewardship of the CBS News
has been more arduous; he does not put the ratings-challenged
CBS Evening News With Katie Couric or The Early
Show in the “mission accomplished category,” he says.
But he can nevertheless mark a number of successes in
a maturing business, including innovations in the digital
space, a new state-of-the-art newsroom and the continued
ratings dominance of 60 Minutes and SundayMorning.
McManus is unfailingly polite and easygoing, with a
moral compass inherited from his father. He’s a stickler
for grammar, as his father
was. And he has an analytical
eye that is almost preternatural,
the result of a childhood spent
at sporting events, or in front of
the TV watching them.
Summers during college at
Duke University were spent
working as a gofer at ABC
Sports, where he learned at the
knee of another broadcast legend:
Roone Arledge, the only
other executive to simultaneously
occupy the top news and
sports jobs at a network.
At 17, McManus was in the control room at the Olympic
village at the 1972 Munich Games for his father’s
marathon coverage of the assassinations of Israeli athletes,
a seminal news event and a defining moment of
McKay’s career. But McManus’ mother—who endured
her husband’s frequent absences—encouraged her son to
give Wall Street a try. “She said, ‘You can probably make
more money, and you won’t have to live your life on airplanes
like your father,’” recalls McManus.
An internship at Solomon Brothers cured him of the notion
that he might be cut out for anything other than broadcasting —the thrill of competition would always trump the
agony of air travel. Upon graduation in 1977, he took a job
as a production assistant and associate producer at ABC
Sports. But he quickly realized that if he was going to be
judged objectively, he had to distance himself from the
considerable shadow of his famous father.
So in 1979 McManus took a job as an associate producer
at NBC Sports, rising to VP of programming by
1982 at just 27 years old. It was at NBC Sports that Mc-
Manus shifted from production to rights negotiations. He
was instrumental in NBC rights agreements for the Olympics,
the NFL, Wimbledon, the Breeder’s Cup and auto
racing. In 1987, he left NBC to become a senior VP at
Trans World International, the television division of sports
management giant IMG, where he was responsible for negotiating
media deals on behalf of rights holders.
“He is a great people person—everybody likes Sean,”
says Barry Frank, executive VP of media sports programming
at IMG. “He’s easy to deal with. He’s not a
tough guy, but he’s firm and couldn’t be pushed around.”
“Direct and honest” is how Leslie Moonves, president
and CEO of CBS Corp., describes McManus’ negotiation
style. “Sean is a man of great character,” says
Moonves. “He has established a trust with the rights
holders. They know they’re not going to be hustled. And
he’s smart enough to know that the only good negotiation
is one where everybody’s happy.”
Moonves asked McManus to take the helm of CBS
News in the wake of the network’s discredited 60 Minutes
II report on President George W. Bush’s Vietnamera
National Guard service. It was a particularly painful
and exhausting period for the news division, and
McManus had a calming influence. “He was a breath
of fresh air,” says Schieffer.
McManus was well aware that having two jobs would
fundamentally change his life—he’s had to be particularly
vigilant to carve out time for his family: his wife, Tracy,
and their children, Jackson, 9, and Maggie, 11.
McManus and his wife discussed Moonves’ offer. “And we decided that for a certain amount of time, it
was the right thing for me to do professionally,” he says.
Both McManus and Moonves say there have been no
discussions about when McManus’ tenure at CBS News
will come to a close. It will be “as long as Leslie thinks
I am performing and am the right man for the position,”
says McManus, “and as long as I am able to handle the
demands of two jobs so that both divisions receive the
attention they need and deserve.”
And while news is much more demanding than sports,
it also holds more significance for McManus.
“I think my life would be a lot simpler and a lot less
complicated if I only ran sports. But in some ways, as
much as I love what I do in sports, what we do in news
is probably more important,” he says. “When I’m really
exhausted and dealing with things that are not all that
enjoyable either in sports or in news, I remind myself
that I’m pretty lucky to have one of these jobs, let alone
both of them.”
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