This month Sport & Technology talked to Mickey Charles, President and CEO of real-time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia. Charles is an attorney by training, has previously owned an advertising agency and was responsible for introducing a sports premium rate phone service to the US. Charles has also been a syndicated columnist, radio talk show host for CBS (sports), TV host for sports talk show for ESPN (hosted by Caesars Palace in Las Vegas) and was the founder of Computer Information Network, Inc.
Note: This interview originally appeared in Rachael's monthly newsletter Sport and Technology.
Why did you launch The Sports Network?
“Because there was an obvious need, a void to be filled, and the head of the organization that had dominated the field for some decades with a literal monopoly told me that ‘it could never be done’. Wrong thing to say to a boy from The Bronx (New York City).”
Please describe what The Sports Network does.
“The Sports Network is the nation's [US] foremost international real-time sports wire service furnishing a plethora of content on a 24/7 basis using state-of-the-art technology that is, literally and unabashedly, years ahead of any present or anticipated competitive offering. TSN's website, www.sportsnetwork.com, contains voluminous proprietary data regarding sports on both a domestic and international level including, but not limited to, baseball, basketball, football, hockey, auto racing, boxing, golf, tennis, cricket, Olympics, soccer and very much while embodying the collegiate and professional aspects when called for, as in the US. TSN's site prohibits users from, among other things, copying and reselling any of its data, information or statistics and our proprietary sports news data incorporates and extends to such areas of coverage as scores, trends, analysis, news, features, statistics, pre and post-game reports, box scores, historical data, and very much more. Among our clients are Google, AT&T, Viacom Television Station Group (CBS TV), IBS/NBC, Tribune Interactive, Knight-Ridder Digital, Lexis*Nexis, Dallas Morning News, New York Times, Boston Globe, New York Daily News, Houston Chronicle, Denver Post, LA Times, Detroit News, Clear Channel Network, Learfield Communications, Media News, Metro Source, Comtex and hundreds more. Sportsnetwork.com is one of the most accessed websites on the internet and TSN currently brands sports pages for sites numbering in excess of 500 while furnishing satellite transmitted data and online transmission to a host of organizations in North America and abroad, reaching upwards of 30m users monthly.”
How has 2006 been for TSN?
“Pleasingly, we have continued to grow and have launched our conference division, IGCE, to accolades and resounding success, with every intention of becoming the foremost and pre-eminent destination for the industries of gaming and gambling, replacing those that are in the market place currently in places such as Montreal, Barcelona, Las Vegas, Amsterdam and the Caribbean. Early indicators and results are that we are on course and will do that in 2007 following our initial efforts in Costa Rica and Ireland in 2006.”
What makes a sports website great in your opinion?
“Interesting question. Some have existed on ‘name value’ and drawing users to them because of their marketing capabilities that are blatantly evident – such as ESPN, Yahoo!, MSNBC, Sports Illustrated, CBS SportsLine, AOL, and a few others, whether they have what the users are desirous of finding upon arrival or not. It is difficult to compete with their promotional reach or the cost of same. On the other hand, the Internet is a fascinating destination and vehicle for data with users worldwide able to research, source and find the destinations that suit their needs best. They find us, by the millions, and the standings will attest to that. Additionally, ours is not a site drowning in a morass of self-adulation and praise, and promotion of items that are of no interest to the user. Our current redesign, in place since October, has drawn a literal standing ovation from around the globe. We offer accuracy, depth of content, ease of navigation, immediacy and reliability, design, growth, responsiveness to users and not dismissing their suggestions/ideas/ commentary, coupled with ongoing research, superior technology, finding what you want in two clicks…three at most but only in unusual cases, offering all of our data at no charge without hidden costs to read any features at all or access one segment of information over another, pleasing (believe it or not) colors, excellent layout of content/graphics/navigation, absence of clutter and, among other things, a continuing review of one's efforts.”
What are the main data copyright issues that you have to deal with in the US in particular?
“We do not have to deal with any in the context within which I believe you have put this forth. The information on our site, and that which is transmitted to our vast array of clients, is created by in-house staff for the most part. No copyright issues exist with regard to sourced statistics; photograph use is permissioned under contract and accreditation is given at all times when called for. That with which we must realistically deal from time to time is use of our own copyrighted materials by others.”
How does the market for online sports data services in the US differ to other major markets in the world?
“In the briefest of responses, we are dealing with a much larger user base, infinitely so, and a highly competitive marketplace for user eyeballs and attention. Additionally, our users who, in the main, are North American based, are not particularly interested in rugby or cricket although we do cater to the latter user base by offering the most comprehensive international cricket informational package available anywhere. And our international soccer is likely on a par with any other in Europe with, perhaps, an isolated exception or two. The bottom line is that we have more sports in the US, it is non-stop throughout the year – baseball, football, hockey, basketball… collegiate and professional levels for all; golf, tennis, boxing, auto racing (the largest consumer and viewed/attended sport in America), horse racing and more with our recently adding bowling, lacrosse, skiing. Of course, there is also our huge coverage of the Olympics to which, for every one of them…both summer and winter, we send our own staff members for coverage…a complete crew of upwards of six in total.”
What are your company's aspirations globally?
“To continue to grow and accommodate the market and our clients. We are more flexible and receptive to the needs of the users and clients than any other organization attempting to compete with us. Our philosophy is to listen, discuss and employ whenever it makes sense to do so. That reputation has led to ongoing growth. Our success is not followed by our being dismissive. Au contraire, it is because of our sensitivity to input, suggestions, advice, and requests. It is because of our accessibility, willingness to change and a perspicacious attitude. We will stay on track and make pit stops whenever necessary.”
If you had a wish-list for new clients, who would be on it and why?
“You have just walked into our business plan and this interview cannot, sadly, contain that information. The sought after new clients are already speaking with us, our focus encompasses the Internet and a vast world beyond it, as large as it is. Recipients of our content, of our efforts, are not limited to sites on the internet. People want many things in their quest for knowledge, instant and long range – the vessels for learning, for acquiring, can never be full for any appreciable length of time. We intend to fill, and refill, them as often as possible.”
How do you think technology has improved sport?
“In our case, amazingly so, relative to how we acquire, format and distribute our content. In the case of sports, it is an ongoing process removing the foibles and inaccuracies of human error which, contrary to the opinions of some, do not make the sport, any sport, better. Perfection, in as many ways as possible, is a human necessity and the errors of referees, judges, arbiters of any sport do not make it more human…they make it more inaccurate, inconsistent and fraught with frailty. Technology negates that and sport, in my opinion, is much the better for it. Regarding the reporting of sports, as we do in every manner imaginable … with content that is, seemingly, unending, technology allows us to reach anyone, anywhere, at any time, with instant news, scores, statistics…whether Manchester United has won, who the New York Yankees have acquired, what city has won the rights to the Olympics, whether Tiger Woods has again made it to the final pairing and endlessly on.”
What is your opinion on the anti-gaming legislation recently passed in the US? Do you think people in the US will stop gambling online?
“I think that the alternative to the legislation would have been the far better route to pursue – legislation, legalization, control and code of ethics, regulation and taxation. Prohibition of alcohol did not work, nor will prohibition of gambling. What we do in the US is an oxymoron in action when it comes to gambling and evidence of complete and total hypocrisy. Whether it is Nevada, New Jersey, race tracks with slot machines, Indian-sponsored and controlled resorts/casinos/riverboats, legal poker clubs in California, an array of lotteries from coast to coast, ours is a nation of gambling and a segment of that has been carved out to declare gambling illegal and a bad thing, so to speak, for the populace while blatantly ignoring all the other indulgent and tolerant gambling. Our state governments spend millions of dollars of advertising, basically telling people to take their savings, Social Security checks and money from piggy banks to buy lottery tickets and attempt to win an ‘unwinnable’ prize or fortune. What is more disingenuous, deceptive and crocodilian than that? Then, to compound the futility of the effort, they secret the legislation in a Port Security Bill before the recent elections. Why? Because a Democratic Congress might never have sanctioned it. As a matter of fact, they may very well repeal it in the months ahead. The people in the US will not stop gambling, online or off. And, this legislation will not be any more effective, eventually, than the Prohibition Act of years ago relative to the consumption of alcohol.”
What's next for your company and the industry in general in your opinion?
“Growth, growth, growth. For our industry what might occur are continued amalgamation, acquisition, merger and putting sources together to create stronger companies. One company has, after many hands and organizations have owned it, been given away to a British service; another is owned by a major media group in the US and the traditional international wire services are not competitive to us at present. We, The Sports Network, other than some small, very small, content sources of segmented matters, are the only privately held company in the industry. We continue to grow and what that means to us at present is unknown. Ours is a very small fishbowl with few swimming in it and we fancy ourselves the prettiest of the gold fish, of the few that there are. The bowl might become larger, as well as its occupants, but the number swimming about is not about to change, certainly not any time soon. I am not sure I know what is next but I am most anxious to entertain and address it as it evolves and comes our way. The industry, whether it is gaming, gambling, entertainment, news or others that require the sport of instant data we provide will grow, and grow, and grow as well… sort of what evolved when Jack tossed those beans out of the window. We will still be there in the morning, climbing up the vine, growing with it.”
For further information about The Sports Network, visit www.sportsnetwork.com.
2200 Byberry Rd.
Hatboro, PA 19040
Fax: (215) 441-5767
Rachael Church is Managing Director of ArkSports, a sports consulting & research company, and Editor of Sport and Technology, a monthly e-newsletter. Her bio can be viewed here. To subscribe to her newsletter click here.