The Player: Bob Riordan crosses over to play ball on buying side

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There was no Monday-morning quarterbacking Bob Riordan on Feb. 5, 2001. That glorious Monday, his decision to become VP-sales at the XFL looked as pretty as a perfect spiral: Two days earlier, the Gen Y football league posted an impressive 10.3 rating for its prime-time opener on NBC.

"People were calling and congratulating me," Mr. Riordan said. "I said, `Congratulate me after week four."'

In retrospect, his reticence proved prescient. The league, a joint venture between the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) and General Electric Co.'s NBC, saw its ratings plummet in successive weeks. "We were shocked by the success of the initial ratings number, but we were equally as shocked by the declining ratings in weeks two, three and four," Mr. Riordan said.

By the time the season was over, the WWF and NBC had lost millions and the XFL was x'ed out. Mr. Riordan didn't stick around for the fourth quarter. A month into the XFL season, he resigned and moved to the College Television Network as exec VP-sales.

Now, a little more than a year later, he's the new senior VP-managing director of national broadcast at Havas Advertising's MPG, New York, a job that opened when Ray Dundas moved to Omnicom's OMD about the time the XFL's fortunes turned sour.

In his new role, Mr. Riordan is in charge of billings estimated at $1 billion for marketers such as MCI, Reckitt Benckiser, Intel and Office Depot. This spring, the position will put him in the throes of the buying side of the TV upfront for the first time.

Prior to the XFL, the jovial (perhaps surprising for a Boston Red Sox diehard) Mr. Riordan, 48, had a 12-year tour on the sales side for USA Networks during cable's growth boom. In 1987, when he joined USA, the network was in 27 million homes. By 1999, it was in 77 million. Between tenures at USA and the XFL, he spent a year and a half at Internet venture MicroCast.

"The biggest difference is when you're selling a network like USA or the XFL, you're basically dealing with one brand," he said, reflecting on his entree into the buying side of the business. "Here at MPG I'm dealing with telecommunications, food services, package goods, high tech."

surprise play

Mr. Riordan said he wasn't looking to leave the College Television post when he placed a call to old friend and now-chief operating officer of MPG North America John Gaffney on a Friday several months ago. Boston-based Mr. Gaffney said Mr. Riordan had coincidentally been on his mind as a candidate (the agency had moved slowly to fill the post) and asked Mr. Riordan if he'd have any interest.

"I like the way he works," Mr. Gaffney said. "I like his values, he has a lot of energy and he's very smart. He doesn't accept the status quo and I also felt Bob would be wonderful for our clients, he's very caring and very genuine with them."

Fast Facts

Name: Bob Riordan

Age: 48

Now: Senior VP-managing director of national broadcast, Havas Advertising's MPG, New York

Challenge: Get the best deal possible for clients in this year's upfront, his first on the buying side of the desk.

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