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Every Town Is a Sports Town: Business Leadership at ESPN, from the Mailroom to the Boardroom

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ESPN's rise is one of the most remarkable stories about business and sports in our time, and nobody can tell it better than George Bodenheimer. It may be hard to believe, but not long ago, getting sports updates was difficult and frustrating. ESPN changed everything. George Bodenheimer knows. Initially hired to work in the mailroom, one of Bodenheimer's first jobs was to ESPN's rise is one of the most remarkable stories about business and sports in our time, and nobody can tell it better than George Bodenheimer. It may be hard to believe, but not long ago, getting sports updates was difficult and frustrating. ESPN changed everything. George Bodenheimer knows. Initially hired to work in the mailroom, one of Bodenheimer's first jobs was to pick up sportscaster Dick Vitale at the Hartford airport and drive him to ESPN's main campus--a couple of trailers in a dirt parking lot. But as ESPN grew, so did George's status in the company. In fact, Bodenheimer played a major part in making ESPN a daily presence not just here, but all over the world. In this business leadership memoir--written with bestselling author Donald T. Phillips--Bodenheimer lays out ESPN's meteoric rise. This is a book for business readers and sports fans alike. A Best Business Book of 2015, Strategy Business


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ESPN's rise is one of the most remarkable stories about business and sports in our time, and nobody can tell it better than George Bodenheimer. It may be hard to believe, but not long ago, getting sports updates was difficult and frustrating. ESPN changed everything. George Bodenheimer knows. Initially hired to work in the mailroom, one of Bodenheimer's first jobs was to ESPN's rise is one of the most remarkable stories about business and sports in our time, and nobody can tell it better than George Bodenheimer. It may be hard to believe, but not long ago, getting sports updates was difficult and frustrating. ESPN changed everything. George Bodenheimer knows. Initially hired to work in the mailroom, one of Bodenheimer's first jobs was to pick up sportscaster Dick Vitale at the Hartford airport and drive him to ESPN's main campus--a couple of trailers in a dirt parking lot. But as ESPN grew, so did George's status in the company. In fact, Bodenheimer played a major part in making ESPN a daily presence not just here, but all over the world. In this business leadership memoir--written with bestselling author Donald T. Phillips--Bodenheimer lays out ESPN's meteoric rise. This is a book for business readers and sports fans alike. A Best Business Book of 2015, Strategy Business

30 review for Every Town Is a Sports Town: Business Leadership at ESPN, from the Mailroom to the Boardroom

  1. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Conversations at my house over the past few days have looked like this, Me: "Dad! There was this guy...Jim V?" My Dad: "Jim Valvano?" Me: "Yeah! Well, he was dying of cancer..." My Dad: "No, he died of it." Me: "Oh. But...well, while he was dying of it he won this ESPN award thing? The Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. And he had this great quote..." My Dad: *interrupts to reminisce about a meaningful underdog game that means nothing to me but everything to a football fan* In some ways, I am exactly the Conversations at my house over the past few days have looked like this, Me: "Dad! There was this guy...Jim V?" My Dad: "Jim Valvano?" Me: "Yeah! Well, he was dying of cancer..." My Dad: "No, he died of it." Me: "Oh. But...well, while he was dying of it he won this ESPN award thing? The Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. And he had this great quote..." My Dad: *interrupts to reminisce about a meaningful underdog game that means nothing to me but everything to a football fan* In some ways, I am exactly the "wrong" reader for this book. I've never watched ESPN, I don't watch sports outside of the occasional NFL game, and am an enthusiastic but happily ignorant Packers fan. Every town may be a sports town, but I am hardly the sports fan audience ESPN attracts. Which makes it very funny and delightful to me how much I enjoyed Every Town Is A Sports Town. I filled my quote book with stories and paragraphs from its pages. The story of ESPN is inspiring and interesting though often un-meaningful if you don't know any of the key players (and which meaningful underdog game they participated in). What really made me appreciate this book, however, was how often I recognized the business principles laid out in Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World's Most Successful Companies. ESPN basically used the same principles that built Koch Industries; the difference is that ESPN didn't specifically categorize them into something like MBM. The focus on culture, hiring right, finding fulfillment, embracing change, and creating a vision everyone can understand, live, and articulate are as relevant to a "broad" organization as Koch as much as a "niche" market like ESPN. The connection with Disney and leadership reminded me of Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, another book I really enjoyed. Totally recommended, for the sports fan and the businessman alike. There is a lot of insight and wisdom involved. Of course, I also recommend reading Good Profit first so you can geek out and interrupt your family with... "MOM! He's totally talking about Change! That's one of the Guiding Principles. It is like he doesn't realize it though. But that is totally MBM!"

  2. 5 out of 5

    Farrell

    Abandoned. I heard it was a good book, but I just couldn't get into it. I'm sure the author's story is inspiring, but I just am not too interested in sports broadcasting or anything like that. But I hope others do enjoy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Erik Surewaard

    I bought this book in the hope of having a good business biography. Unfortunately, it was more a book for public relations purposes. The book is a “good news show” about the author himself and ESPN. A significant part of the story focusses on supporting the good causes, which confirm in my opinion this book is all about spin.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Budd Bailey

    "Every Town is a Sports Town" is billed as appealing to sports fans, business readers, and corporate executives alike. That's a rather diverse group, even for allowing for the fact that the business types have been known to read the sports page first at times. So let's take a look at what we've got here, and see where it fits. George Bodenheimer wasn't an original at ESPN, but he could more or less see or at least learn about the creation first-hand. He joined the company in 1981, less than two y "Every Town is a Sports Town" is billed as appealing to sports fans, business readers, and corporate executives alike. That's a rather diverse group, even for allowing for the fact that the business types have been known to read the sports page first at times. So let's take a look at what we've got here, and see where it fits. George Bodenheimer wasn't an original at ESPN, but he could more or less see or at least learn about the creation first-hand. He joined the company in 1981, less than two years after it had started. Bodenheimer was employee no. 150, for the record. ESPN had grown a bit from the first days when no one was too sure what they were doing and where they were going. They were the first to start a 24-hour cable channel dedicated to sports, offering a modest challenge to the status quo in broadcasting. The big three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, were still in charge, but this at least was an interesting gamble. Bodenheimer arrived on the scene, doing whatever his boss at the moment thought necessary. One of his first responsibilities was to drive from Bristol, Conn., the corporate headquarters, to the Hartford/Springfield airport to pick up Dick Vitale. You might think that driving Vitale somewhere would be an exercise in silence in the car for everyone but Vitale, but they actually struck up a good relationship in those drives. Eventually, Bodenheimer moved up from driver to a variety of positions of the business world. The company was small enough at the beginning so that young talent was rewarded pretty quickly, and new ideas were accepted readily. After all, on some level they were making it up as they went along. After some time out in the field, working with affiliates, etc., Bodenheimer eventually came back to Bristol. It turns out he had a pretty good seat for the development of the company there. The author goes through the highlights, including such events as the addition of Sunday (and later Monday) Night Football, ESPN2, College GameDay, the X Games, the merger with Disney, SportsCentury, 30 for 30, and so on. Viewers - come to think of it, maybe customers would be a better word with all the platforms ESPN uses these days - will remember those developments. Eventually, Bodenheimer became the president of ESPN. He certainly comes across here as a good boss, taking pride in a personal relationship with all employees and accepting ideas no matter what the source. It's probably not a coincidence that ESPN had a long run of success under his tenure. And when things went a little bad, he rolled up his sleeves and figured out a way to fix them. Now to the difficult part - what sort of book is it? I'm not so sure sports fans will love this effort. Many of the developments in ESPN mentioned above have been covered in other places, so there's not much new in that sense. Besides, Bodenheimer doesn't have that many stories about the on-air personalities that can draw a sports fan in. Business types might be able to take a bit more out of this. This is a success story, after all, and it's instructive to see how ESPN reacted to situations over the years. Business books sometimes can get bogged down in anagrams and four-point plans for success. Luckily, Bodenheimer avoids that for the most part. Yes, there are sections devoted to how ESPN came up with a mission statement - my eyes gloss over when I see such things - but mostly it's how he dealt with real-world situations. It's fair to say this is a mostly positive look at the ride at the network. Even the failures seem to be handled properly. The people Bodenheimer encountered along the way come off well here. "Every Town is a Sports Town," then will work for those seeking the details of an impressive business achievement - how ESPN conquered the sports world. If you are in that narrow classification, you'll enjoy it and maybe get a few good tips along the way.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alex Kartman

    George Bodenheimer's autobiographical account of his history at ESPN offers many poignant pieces of advice on leadership. However much of the advice is buried in later chapters of the book. If you are familiar with the history of ESPN, or have ever read a book like "Those Guys Have all the Fun," this will at times feel repetitive as Bodenheimer repeats familiar tales of the old days in Bristol. In the end however, the dense chapters full of leadership advice are enlightening. I already have copi George Bodenheimer's autobiographical account of his history at ESPN offers many poignant pieces of advice on leadership. However much of the advice is buried in later chapters of the book. If you are familiar with the history of ESPN, or have ever read a book like "Those Guys Have all the Fun," this will at times feel repetitive as Bodenheimer repeats familiar tales of the old days in Bristol. In the end however, the dense chapters full of leadership advice are enlightening. I already have copied many of his thoughts into notepads to employ in the future with my projects and groups. In the end, this is a great read if you are not familiar with the history of ESPN. If you are familiar, the book is worthwhile for its later chapters, but is a chore to get through.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    However, the title misleads readers into believing it's a book about leadership when in fact the book orients around ESPN's history from Bodenheimer's perspective. While there were leadership tidbits, I hoped for more depth. My lessons learned: (1) openness and forthrightness can be very successful business traits; (2) creating a corporate identity can be a huge motivating factor for employees (in ESPN's case, entrepreneurship and teamwork were key); (3) set and communicate tangible and clear org However, the title misleads readers into believing it's a book about leadership when in fact the book orients around ESPN's history from Bodenheimer's perspective. While there were leadership tidbits, I hoped for more depth. My lessons learned: (1) openness and forthrightness can be very successful business traits; (2) creating a corporate identity can be a huge motivating factor for employees (in ESPN's case, entrepreneurship and teamwork were key); (3) set and communicate tangible and clear organizational priorities; (4) make an effort to eat with, exercise with and meet with staff; and (5) enable employees to pursue their ideas.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Atosha

    Recommended reading for sports fans and start ups. The leadership lessons from the ultimate sports start up ESPN. Bill Rasmussen's vision for 24 hour sports coverage broke all the rules and changed the game completely.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Al

    The book provides a history of ESPN along with a tutorial on corporate management. If you remember the early days of ESPN, it brings back a lot of memories as well as what was going on behind the cameras.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    Dull bio of ESPN leader and ESPN itself. Covered better in Those Guys Have All the Fun. Extended review here. Dull bio of ESPN leader and ESPN itself. Covered better in Those Guys Have All the Fun. Extended review here.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sharyn

    George started at ESPN four months after me. We grew up together but he was a little more successful. The book was like reliving twenty years of my life.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Connolly

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jason Newman

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ben Smith

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lukas

  15. 4 out of 5

    Steve Mackay

  16. 5 out of 5

    Avery

  17. 5 out of 5

    Derek Brody

  18. 5 out of 5

    Vilma Montes

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Waller

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Seras

  21. 5 out of 5

    Matt Mays

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bryce

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ross Dunbar

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tim Stich

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stephen MacKenzie

  26. 5 out of 5

    Josh Sexton

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

  28. 5 out of 5

    Will Kilby

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Esten

  30. 4 out of 5

    Holly

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