Mark Lazarus

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The large rights fees sports properties are commanding these days not only are altering the economics of TV but are affecting executive roles as well.

One example is the dual role Mark Lazarus plays. Reared on the sales side, Mr. Lazarus, 37, was named president of Time Warner's Turner Sports. In addition to sales, he now handles programming, too. He is the only top executive at the national sports cable level overseeing his company's sales/marketing and production/programming efforts.

Why meld church and state? After committing a major sum for the rights to telecast sports, like Turner with Nascar, media companies want bottom-line-oriented thinking as they seek to recoup their investments.

One way to do that is to work with the rights holder to improve the desirability of the content. That serves the network by boosting ratings (and thus ad revenues), not to mention other revenue-generating areas in the short-term.

"Gone is the day where a network will buy a property, exhibit the property as they see fit and everyone goes along happily," says Mr. Lazarus. "Today, sport is entertainment, and every sports property and every network has to take the approach that rights deals are marketing propositions. And they need to work in tandem to build and strengthen the properties in this world of growing choices."

Mr. Lazarus oversees a lot of the choices -- about 1,400 hours a year on TNT, TBS and Turner South. Next year, he'll have even more in his bailiwick, as TBS begins a six-year deal as the exclusive cable network for the second-half of the Nascar season and TNT begins carrying in April one game a week of the fledgling Women's United Soccer Association.

Mr. Lazarus, who helped develop both the Nascar and soccer rights deals, could be given some credit for bringing soccer star Mia Hamm to prime time. He expects to slot WUSA games in family-oriented times.

Earlier this year, he also helped bring the Wimbledon tennis tournament to more viewers. In January, Turner Sports acquired the cable rights to the tournament. Most of the coverage ran on TNT, but 28 hours also ran on CNN/SI.

Although Mr. Lazarus does not oversee CNN/SI, he was involved in the rights negotiations that brought the all-sports-news network its first-ever live event programming. That could be the beginning of an altered identity for the network that has struggled to find its legs.

With Wimbledon, Mr. Lazarus demonstrated a willingness to be unpredictable, selecting broadcasting legend, but tennis neophyte, Marv Albert to do play-by-play.

Mr. Albert's tennis debut followed Mr. Lazarus's March signing of the controversial former NBA star Charles Barkley to a long-term deal to do studio work for Turner's national cable NBA package.

The NBA is one area where Turner works with the rights holder to make the content more appetizing to viewers and sponsors. Nascar coverage will be another next year, he says.

There will be some pressure on Mr. Lazarus because of the sums required to land the circuit's rights.

But with Nascar's popularity, Mr. Lazarus sees an opportunity to work with individual race sponsors such as Coca-Cola Co. or PepsiCo on corresponding cablecast sponsorships of the broadcasts of the events.

Still, to make Nascar a financial boon, he says: "I have no illusions. It's going to take a terrific sales job to do it."

Mr. Lazarus more than likely will pull it off. After all, he has sports TV in his blood. His father, John, a 1999 Media Maven, heads national buying for TN Media, New York; that makes dad a client. One brother, Craig, is a producer at ESPN and the other, Peter, used to work in sales for NBC Sports and now is at Phase 2 Media.

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