by Charmaine Daniels
Both Business Week and Sports Business Journal have named Randy Freer ’82, president of Fox Sports Networks, as one of the most influential people in the business of sports. Freer also serves on the board of directors of the Big Ten Network, where he helps with strategic oversight. He lives with his wife and twin 7-year-old daughters in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Photo: Michael Becker/Fox Cable Networks
Many of us like to follow our favorite pro teams on television, but we don't think much about how they landed on our TV screen. In fact, there's a whole other sports battle played out behind the one you watch, and for Randy Freer '82, President of Fox Sports Networks (FSN), that is pretty much all he thinks about. One of the key people who helped to build Fox Sports' regional networks group into a powerhouse, his job is to hold FSN's edge against the competitors, including teams like the Yankees or the Red Sox, who operate their own regional sports network. He's also busy planning for tomorrow - when sports will increasingly be offered online with interactive features to engage the fans.
What's a disarming, easygoing guy like Freer doing in a fast-paced, high-pressure job responsible for managing 850 employees across the country and bringing in millions of dollars each year? Driving him is a passion for something he's cherished since childhood - sports. He loves what he does; you can hear it in his voice when he talks about his work. He makes troubleshooting with team executives, long phone meetings, frequent travel, learning what the teams need, and figuring out what he must do to meet those needs, sound easy. He's not afraid of hard work, either, and still puts in 60 to 70 hours per week. He's also not afraid to learn from his mistakes. His boss, Tony Vinciquerra, Chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group, says, "He is one of the few people that actually recognizes what they don't know and tries to learn."
Freer came to Fox in 1997 when FSN was small, but itching to expand. He helped to dramatically grow its regional sports networks, which now reach more than 80 million households across the country and air games for more than half of all NBA, NHL and MLB teams nationally. The company now produces close to 5,000 live local events each year, including college and high school games as well.
Kevin Howley '82 of Wrentham, Mass., says Freer was not "a hard charger" in college and did not foresee that his college buddy would end up in the corporate fast lane. At St. Joe's, Freer played basketball for three years. A business and history major, he enjoyed his campus friendships and still keeps in touch.
Indeed, Freer didn't start out with a focused plan to rocket himself to the top (see Career History below). An early stint as a media buyer for People Express Airlines involved professional sports sponsorships, and he realized he liked the merger of media with sports. Though diligent and willing to work as hard as is necessary or harder than others, Freer says he's lucky, has made good choices about companies to work for, and has worked for people who took an interest in his development.
Asked about his biggest asset, he states humbly that it is being surrounded by talented, qualified and passionate people. When pressed to state his strengths, he pauses, then says, "The ability to see and set real priorities. There are a lot of things to spend time on, but it's important to know what to do each day or week." His job is to make sure everyone understands the priorities, both short term and long term.
In the next 12-18 months, expanding into the digital realm is the top priority. Sports is the last sector to stream live video online, and FSN must lead the digital charge if it is to maintain its number one spot for local sports. More and more, consumers want on-demand programming online, which, to use sports terms, will "do an end run" around cable providers. Part of that online push will be tapping into social networking. In fact, the same company that owns FSN - NewsCorp - owns social networking site MySpace, which Freer says could provide a focal point for the incredible energy and excitement that sports generate. As he says, when it comes to sports, "Grown men still paint their faces ... and we need to give them a place to interact." (And, no, he doesn't have a MySpace or Facebook page.)
People have always loved their chosen teams, but how they bond with them could change fast. Freer says FSN spends a lot of time on developing new media, trying to determine what the future will look like and how consumers will react to new products. Knowing that he is being interviewed by a Celtics fan, he asks: "In five years, are you going to be watching them at home in high def, on the computer where it's interactive, or on the cell phone?" Indeed, part of his work is negotiating sports packages with cell phone providers telecasting via fiberoptic networks.
So what are his favorite teams? The New Jersey native says one of them is the yankees. Now a resident of suburban Los Angeles, he says the other one is the Lakers. No matter his favorites, sports in general is number one to Freer. Whether he is carving out new media territory, negotiating contracts, or taking a look at new programming, what he enjoys most is that his job involves every aspect of business in the arena he's loved all his life. He is, in fact, one of the passionate consumers that he serves.
What's next? He'd like to grow in the opportunity he has now, but in the future would consider "something entrepreneurial in the team world." As he told an interviewer for Broadcasting & Cable two years ago, "It'd be really great to own the Utah Jazz; I could ski in the morning and go to games at night."
In the meantime, he still looks at every day as an opportunity to learn. "you have to make mistakes in order to grow, and you have to be willing to risk in order to make a difference," he says.
Randy Freer is President of Fox Sports Networks, where his passion for sports and savvy in business find him at home in the big leagues.