ESPN president to speak at Duke

It’s a lucky weekend for sports fans at Duke. George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, will be on campus just before the Duke-UNC basketball game Saturday.

Bodenheimer will take part in the Fuqua School of Business’s Distinguished Speaker Series today in Geneen Auditorium at 5:15 p.m. Fuqua has sponsored the series since 1984, aiming to allow students to gain insight from business leaders and strengthen Fuqua’s relationships with major corporations. The approximately one-hour talk will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

Kevin White, vice president and director of athletics, is a longtime personal friend of Bodenheimer and assisted Fuqua to bring the sports executive to campus, said Fuqua’s Director of Corporate Relations Stephen Windham, Trinity ’93.

“He’s probably one of the most, if not the most, powerful person in sports,” Windham said. “In terms of who would you bring if you could bring anyone, if the business school could bring anyone to share their perspectives on the industry, about sports, about the media, there would be few who could talk about these issues from the vantage point that he can.”

Chris Privett, senior public relations specialist for Fuqua, said Bodenheimer was not available for comment this week.

Bodenheimer was named the Most Powerful Person in Sports by The Sporting News in 2003, but his path to the position was far from traditional. Upon graduating from Denison University in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Bodenheimer had difficulty finding a job in the sports industry.

A family friend told Bodenheimer about the launch of the new sports network in Bristol, Conn. and suggested that he seek employment there, said Chris LaPlaca, ESPN’s senior vice president of corporate communications. Bodenheimer ended up taking the only position that was available—a job in the mail room—and made the decision to slowly work his way up in the organization.

At the time, ESPN was hardly the media powerhouse that it is today—many people found the idea of a 24/7 sports network on TV to be unsustainable.

“There was a lot of skepticism, and as George likes to say, ‘We were very bad listeners,’” LaPlaca said.

ESPN, however, has emerged as a media giant in the last 30 years, dominating not just television but also the Internet with its exhaustive sports coverage. Since Bodenheimer became the company’s fifth president in 1998, the company has experienced record growth.

LaPlaca said he expects Bodenheimer to speak to the audience about the growth of the company from its humble beginnings and about the importance of brand recognition and innovation. He added that Bodenheimer will use personal anecdotes about the path of his career to give the Duke community insight into his experiences.

“I think the one thing he’ll talk about as well tomorrow is the notion of how important culture is to any company, and what the ESPN culture means to our success and what we try to do for fans every day,” LaPlaca said. “We have a very simple mission that he articulates very clearly, and it’s, ‘serve sports fans.’ That’s what we try to do every day.”


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