“I haven’t been this relaxed in 46 years,” he says. “What can I do for you?”
I tell him I want to talk about his career. The production guru has been in the frontline of several revolutions in sports television.
His ride started at CBS Sports in the early ’70s, back when an NFL pregame show was a novel idea. It took him through the dramatic launch of Fox Sports in 1994, which completely and forever changed the sports landscape.
Goren stepped aside from his role as vice-chairman of the Fox Sports Group earlier this year. However, he hardly is retiring. He remains at Fox as a consultant and is working on numerous other projects. He is even going to do some consulting for a new football league in India.
“If I had more time I’d try to do what you’re doing,” said Goren, apparently unaware of the pay scale for doing what I’m doing.
Goren definitely has plenty to say. In my interview, I asked him to look back and look ahead on sports television.
Note: Goren has a long and terrific story about his relationship with Jimmy “The Greek” that I am going to save for a future post.
On his start: In 1966, I went to work at CBS News. To be a kid on the copy desk during the hey day of CBS News, with Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid. It was something else to be around those legends as a 21-year-old kid. I look back and feel fortunate that I was there and making $90 per week.
On move to sports: My first assignment for CBS Sports was to be part of the production team for the Pan American Games in Mexico City (in 1975). The first guy I worked with was Jack Whitaker. It was really the first time the Cuban athletes really resonated in an international sporting event. Somebody at CBS thought it would be a good idea if Jack and I could get on the Cuban charter back to Havana.
CBS literally sent an accountant to Mexico City. He came to my hotel room and spread $10,000 cash on the bed to be used if we had any problems getting out.
We wound up spending 48 hours in Havana. It probably was a rather average produced piece with one memorable moment. We came across a blind piano player playing in the street. Whitaker took that and turned the whole piece into complete poetry.
On Brent Musburger: The original hosts of NFL Today were Jack Whitaker and Lee Leonard. At some point, one of the two couldn’t make it and (then CBS Sports chief Bob Wussler) called on Brent, who was doing local sports in Chicago. He was pure Brent. His opening was, ‘Folks, I’m like a kid in the candy store with all these monitors here.’
Brent just lit it up. He was the kind of guy who really didn’t need a teleprompter. Howard Cosell also was like that. Brent always had the ability to hit his mark. He blew everyone away.
On Phyllis George: There were people who said she was fluff. She was brilliant. She fought for stories. If it weren’t for Phyllis George making her mark on CBS, who knows how long it would have taken for somebody else to say, ‘Let’s put a woman on network sports television.’ She really was a pioneer. Wussler and Phyllis never got the proper credit for what they accomplished.
On John Madden: When he was first hired, nobody at CBS thought he would be as big as he was. This was a mid-round draft choice who went on to be the best ever in any sport. There will never be another John Madden. He was brilliant.
If I show five guys a painting, four of them will tell me what is in the painting. John would point out something in the background like somebody wearing two different sneakers. He saw beyond the obvious.
Those Lite beer commercials contributed to him being a character. He created a personna. It was John. It was honest.
John would always say, ‘I’m just a football guy.’ I would say, ‘You’re more than that. There are a lot of football guys doing football. Nobody is like you.’ He hated that, but the reality is he was an entertainer.
On NFL moving to Fox: When it happened in the early 90s, it was in a soft ad market. The networks were cutting back on their production costs. At CBS and NBC, there were games with only four cameras and two tape machines. When we started Fox Sports, one of the conversations I had was, ‘Even if the game was only going to 10 percent of the country, those people in that market could care less. They deserve a quality broadcast.’ The fewest we ever went with were six cameras and four tape machines, which is a lot more than four and two.
At a time, when people were cutting back, we elevated the production. We threw more money into everything. We were the first to have an hour pregame show. It forced others to step up.
The deal was a game-changer on the production side. And it was a game-changer on the economics side of the sport, for all sports.
I can’t say enough about our relationship. We were at a press conference in New York to introduce (Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long for Fox NFL Sunday). At the end of the press conference, I see Jimmy Johnson just quit at Dallas. I said to David, ‘I’ll see you in a couple of days.’ I didn’t even say I’m going to Dallas. He said, ‘Fine, just check in.’ That would never happen at CBS. It would be, ‘What are we doing? He’s not in the budget.’ With David, it was, ‘Just check in.’ That’s pretty cool.
We always felt the danger is not trying something and failing. The danger is sitting back and not trying at all. If it didn’t work out, we’d go to the bar and say, ‘We screwed up. What are we going to do next?’
On his announcers and analysts: Looking back, to have Terry, Howie and Jimmy all these years. Finding a young Jim Nantz in Salt Lake City. Running into Joe Buck’s mother at the 1994 Super Bowl and having her tell me that she has a son who is an announcer. Getting someone like Michael Strahan. I’ve been very fortunate in that regard.
On biggest concern for future of sports TV: If there’s a concern, and I’d hate to see it, but if there is a real estate bubble and a tech bubble, at some point do we have a sports rights bubble? There’s nothing healthier now than sports on TV. Look at how much sports is available. How much is in prime time.
Looking back, the $400 millon and change Fox paid for the NFL (in 1994)…What a bargain. There are two things you learn: Whatever you think is expensive today, you’ll look back and say it was a bargain. And in today’s world, if you don’t get the rights to something, you’re out of the game for 10 years or more. There aren’t any four-year deals anymore.
But when is enough enough? I mean, how does ESPN do it paying $55 million for one Monday night game? The business is becoming more difficult because of the elevated rights fees. It’s challenging. Maybe I’m not quite smart enough to figure it out. Hopefully, the people at the various networks are smarter than me.
On where sports TV is going: Everyone still is looking at the magic pill on how we’re going to monetize that second screen. How are we going to make the broadcast more interactive? Nobody has been able to figure it out. I don’t know. Maybe that’s a good reason for me to realize that it is time to move on.
There are a lot of bright young minds who are more in tune with what is happening today and with what the younger demo wants. If I had the answer to what the next great thing is, I’d still be working.