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NBC Sports’ Veteran Programmer Is a Classic

As president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, Jon Miller has a travel schedule that could rival those of the athletes his networks cover.

Over a four-day span in May, Miller flew from Los Angeles—for the opening game of the Stanley Cup Finals between the New York Rangers and the L.A. Kings—back to New York to attend the Belmont Stakes. The next day, Miller traveled to Montreal for a Formula One race before heading back to New York for the third game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Had he not taken these continental bounces, Miller could just as easily have been at Paris’ Roland Garros stadium, where NBC was airing the French Open.

“It was a pretty active four days,” he says.

Like most Americans with a yen for live sports, Miller was glued to the TV for the World Cup, which ended July 13. He joined in the growing chorus proclaiming the U.S.’ “arrival” on soccer’s biggest stage—though, granted, he has his own professional motives for doing so.

“It really shows how soccer has come of age in this country,” says Miller, who has reason to be confident that interest in the Cup will translate to higher ratings when the English Premier League kicks off on NBC’s nets next month, starting with the fact that American goalkeeper Tim Howard plays for Everton in the EPL. “It only helps grow the attention and awareness.”

Miller has been instrumental in the acquisition of numerous properties for NBC Sports, from the Premier League and Formula One to several others that make up the 9,500 yearly programming hours for NBC Sports and NBCSN.

“Jon’s experience and passion for developing properties, partnerships and events has made him an invaluable member of our team and one of the most respected executives in the industry,” says Mark Lazarus, NBC Sports Group chairman.

Most know Miller as one of the architects of the NHL’s Winter Classic, which has become among the biggest days on hockey’s calendar. He says the idea started when NBC lost the rights to college football’s Gator Bowl, which left a scheduling hole on New Year’s Day.

Though the NHL was lukewarm on the concept of a nationally televised outdoor game at first, Miller fought for it, even becoming a self-described “nuisance” at the NHL offices. It didn’t happen until NHL COO John Collins came from the NFL and helped seal the deal.

“‘I think we had an opportunity to catch lightening in a bottle if we do it the right way,’” Miller remembers telling Collins. “He immediately grasped what it could be.”

It was yet another feather in the cap for Miller, who has been with NBC for 36 years—a rare run in the TV business— starting at his hometown WRC in Washington, D.C. as an account executive in the 1970s. He rose up the ranks to the national level at NBC Sports, where he landed his first programming job in 1988.

Miller credits his background in sales for really helping him to “understand how the business operates,” he says. “You have to learn to pivot and make accommodations and changes.” And the TV industry veteran has seen his share of shifts.

“I’ve seen a lot of things happen in the business,” says Miller, noting the numerous properties coming and going through NBC and ones that were once dominant ratings drivers fall off and vice-versa. He jokes that he has friends who still prefer the old “Roundball Rock” theme song that NBC used for its NBA coverage during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Outside the office, Miller is involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund. He is also an avid golfer. And he is not the only Miller currently under NBC’s wing—one of his sons works as a writer’s assistant on Grimm.

As for what he prefers to watch, it should come as no surprise that Miller takes his work him with him: “I watch an enormous amounts of sports on television.”