Interviews

Costas, Michaels, top network and league execs heap praise on Dick Ebersol, HOF Rozelle awardee

Iconic Commissioner David Stern, ESPN's Bodenheimer, NBC's Lazarus, CBS' McManus, Turner's Daniels, and NFL exec Howard Katz weigh in

 

For years, those at the top of networks, governing bodies, leagues and elsewhere have heaped praise on the star-studded Dick Ebersol who’s being honored with the Pete Rozelle Award Friday night at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Former Fox Sports Chairman, David Hill, himself quite accomplished, once said, ”He is very innovative, obviously a great leader and, from my perspective, a very worthy competitor.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be speaking at the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner where the award will be presented.

TV icon Dick Ebersol honored with Pro Football HOF’s Rozelle Award; shaped ‘Football Night in America’

Prestigious executives and broadcasters who’ve known Ebersol shared their comments:

George Bodenheimer (longtime President, ESPN)

Dick Ebersol truly recognized the unparalleled impact of sports and the dramatic nature of big events.  He brought tremendous creativity to his work and through a focus on storytelling, his team built global interest in the sports, events and athletes they covered.

Bob Costas (Award winning network broadcaster and an NBC  alum)

Ebersol (l) with Costas

Dick was both a very successful executive, AND a hands on producer. The storytelling style that appeals to a broad network audience helped set NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, the NBA, the Kentucky Derby and other big events apart. His influence can still be seen and felt as his disciples are everywhere. Dick was charismatic and willing to take chances. When you do that, not everything works out. But his success percentage was very high.

The best advise Dick gave me (more than once) was to recognize that prominent broadcasters, especially those who are at all distinctive, will inevitably receive some criticism. Some valid, some not. And no matter how off base some of it may be, it’s a waste of time and energy to pay much attention to it, especially when in the big picture you are way ahead of the game. When I kept that in mind, I slept better. When I didn’t, insomnia ensued.

Dick’s Legacy is vast both in and out of sports. Remember, he played a significant role in establishing Saturday Night Live as well as other programs. And during his tenure heading NBC Sports, he had input into other aspects of NBC programming beyond the sports division. When his longtime friends Brandon Tartikoff and Don Ohlmeyer ran NBC entertainment, they often commiserated with Dick. Dick always revered his mentor Roone Arledge as the gold standard. But Dick is right there with him. He is one of the true giants of television.

Lenny Daniels (President, Turner Sports)

Dick is unlike any person I have ever worked for in that he has an unwavering pursuit of storytelling, married with a business sense and an awareness of personal sacrifice.  I always felt that I wanted to work even harder when working alongside him.

In my mind, Dick’s legacy will always be around taking events like the Olympics and Sunday Night Football, making them far more than sports events, and turning them into cultural phenomena.

Howard Katz (Longtime TV Executive with NFL, ESPN and formerly President, ABC Sports)

ESPN’s Bodenheimer (l), current NFL exec Howard Katz and Ebersol

Dick possessed an uncanny ability to turn business relationships into strong personal relationships. Combine that with his brilliant mind, an incredible insight into the pulse of the industry and his great creative instincts and he was simply an overwhelming force in the sports media landscape. He also had a great eye for talent, both in front of and behind the camera.

I think his legacy will be acquiring Sunday Night Football for NBC and turning it into the number one show in primetime television, and the long term Olympic deals he negotiated.

Mark Lazarus (Chairman, NBC Broadcast, Cable, Sports and News)

Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Sports and BroadcastingWhat made Dick special was his ability to form incredible relationships, and the rare ability to marry creative genius and business sense. 

He will always be the legendary leader of NBC Sports, with incredible influence across the entire company, and the sports media industry.

Sean McManus (Chairman, CBS Sports)

McManus (l) with Ebersol

Dick’s right at the top of sports and entertainment producers.  He was one of Roone Arledge’s key proteges. His legacy is secure. I don’t think there’s been a better sports producer in the history of our industry. His programming and management skills are unparalleled. If there’s a Mount Rushmore of sports executives, Dick will certainly be represented. 

I don’t think anyone in our industry has combined his ability to produce with an incredible flair and to also manage a group of men and women and get out of them their best performances.

No one has had better relationships in the world of sports television.

I first met Dick when he was an Olympic researcher for ABC in the 1960s. He’s been a role model, mentor and friend since then. I consciously tried to model my career after his amazing accomplishments. If I’ve achieved half his successes, I’ll consider my career successful.

Al Michaels (Rozelle Award winner and Voice of Primetime NFL TV since 1986)

One key trait that set Dick apart: He was the rare executive who had equal chops on both the creative and business ends. He understood what made for great television and how to work a balance sheet. Nobody knew how to perform that juggling act better than Dick.

(On what Al picked up from Dick Ebersol) Plenty. It’s tough to single out any one thing because there were so many. Let’s just say he had a keen eye for the big picture and when he weighed in, he had perspective. 

As for his legacy, things stand out. He turned NBC into the Olympic network. It was a master stroke that he pulled off in the mid ’90s. And he had the perfect vision for Sunday Night Football. The fact that SNF has been the number one program in all of television for eight straight years (with a ninth to come, I’m certain) can be traced back to what Dick envisioned, along with the late Pat Bowlen. 

Ken Schanzer (former President, NBC Sports)

Most everyone would agree that the two greatest names in television sports history are Roone Arledge and Dick Ebersol.

I worked with Dick for 21 years. He’s as brilliant as they come.

He sold the NFL on the idea that Sunday Night can revivify primetime football. He got the league to agree to a flex schedule and developed it into the number one rated program on network television. The schedule had to be eye-catching. You can’t suffer viewer fatigue.

Dick is the best read man I know, an inveterate reader, a memory second to none, an amazing sense for pop culture and can profile every TV show. His breadth of knowledge is stunning.

David Stern (30 years, Commissioner, NBA)

Current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, David Stern and Ebersol (l-r)

Dick was deeply involved in every aspect of our relationship:  the promotion, the production, the scheduling and working with everyone at the NBA –from top to bottom—to make them understand how important the relationship was to him. 

Owners were invited to the Olympics, Must see TV featured promotions for our games on Thursday night, and on game-day, Dick was either in the truck or “producing” from home—and on the phone with me. 

He should be remembered as the executive who brought NBC back with a plan to acquire the NBA, who took the NBA to the top of the ratings charts, who lost the NFL and then reacquired it for the most successful Football Night in America, and who locked up the Olympics as an NBC property for a period of time that was once thought undoable.  His relationships with the NFL owners, NBA owners, NHL owners and the IOC officers and members were without peers.

 

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Tim Ryan

Dick: Daring, demanding, dependable and…decent. Deserves documentary. Tim Ryan : Ebersol contractee 1998-2013