Sports media wizard Chuck Gerber will be missed
Gerber, who died on Nov.6, was sometimes thought to be a cantankerous and ornery fellow. But he was actually very different when you got to know him.
By Nick Infante, Clips Editor, 11-22-15
As is excerpted from an SBJ article below, sports media legend Chuck Gerber died on Nov. 6. This was a great loss for family, friends, business associates and the entire sport media industry. And Clips too, I'll tell you why below.
Iâ€™ve been toldâ€”and I have observedâ€”that Chuck came off with a certain "cantankerousnessâ€ to some people he came in contact with. But with me, the editor of College Athletics Clips, he was very warm from the start. He appreciated the time savings that Clips afforded him, so I guess that was why I got a pass from his signature faux grumpiness.
I first spoke with him in 2009 or so. The name Chuck Gerber had popped up as a new Clips subscriber on my email. In the company box he had entered "Consultant (SEC)â€ and in the title box he entered "consultant.â€
By then, the four-year old Clips service had grown to several hundred subscribers, and I was no longer able to phone all new subscribers with thanks. But I was intrigued with Chuck's sign-up profileâ€”"Consultant (SEC)"â€” so I rang him up on that splashy sunny summer day.
I recognized the phone number on his profile as being from Southern California, but the voice that rasped out a hello was classic New Yawk. I quickly thanked him for becoming a subscriber, and thenâ€”being that I am geographically fixated, I brashly asked where he lived. His answer was something that sounded like one of those affluent LA burbs; and then I made a lame remark that he didn't sound like a native Californian (knowing full well he was likely a salty New Yorker).
By now Chuck caught on that he was talking with an impudent rascal, and he stated with pride that he was a native Brooklynite, whereupon I blattered out "Dodgers, 4th Avenue, Williamsburg Bank building Fort Green, Verrazano Bridge Bay Ridge Coney Island Prospect Park" all in one breath. I doubt that Chuck was impressed, but he charitably let it pass.
I asked Chuck how he had heard of College Athletics Clips, and he said he had heard from Charles Bloom, then the SEC Senior Associate Commissioner of Communications. Then I asked Chuck what he was doing for the SEC, and he understatedlyâ€”very understatedlyâ€”said he would be "helping" with media. "Helping with media?" Jeez, SEC Network, blockbuster media rights deals, CFP media start-up . . . helping?
I met Chuck in person for the first time a couple years later at the SEC Football Media Days in July 2011. For readers not familiar with it, the SEC FB MD is a rip-roaring spectacle with a thousand credentialed media members and hundreds of fans in the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, a suburb of Birmingham.
I saw Chuck with Mike Slive and Charles Bloom in the Grand Lobby. That was fortunate, because I had met Mike and Charles several times before. Mike and Charles greeted me and intro'd me to Chuck. By then I felt like I "knewâ€ Chuck from many emails back and forth over the previous two years wherein he answered various media questions. He was always very helpful to me.
Later during the three-day SEC Media Days Chuck approached me and asked me if I could help him renew his subscription. He said he'd experienced trouble a couple weeks before when he tried to renew his Clips subscription online. So I pulled out my laptop, navigated into the innards of the Clips payment system and handed the laptop to Chuck. Then I discreetly paced several steps away. Chuck tapped in his credit card number and completed the transaction.
This was the first and only time that a Clips subscriber has ever renewed their subscription on my laptop. Cool.
I saw Chuck several other times over the ensuing years; mostly at SportBusiness Journal Intercollegiate Athletics Forums and the National Football Foundation Awards Banquet, which are scheduled one day after each other in Manhattan.
The Football banquet is held at the storied and opulent Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan. One year I was at the NFF about three hours before the festivities were about to begin, and I bumped into Chuck. I asked him some questions about bundling, the Big Ten Network and the hot topics of the day in sports media.
Chuck started to answer me, but figured weâ€™d get interrupted, so we walked up a few of those gently sloping, creamy marble stairs up a half-flight to a sort of balcony overlooking the dripping-with-excess Waldorf entrance lobby. From there, we could get a birdâ€™s eye view of who was coming and going. [See photo below]
For the next half hour Chuck laid out his tale about the future of sports TV. It was like Jerry West talking about the jump shot, Enzo Ferrari talking about 12-cylinder engines, Eric Clapton talking about harmonic riffs . . . .
Yes, Chuck mentioned cost-per-thousand, carriage, primary-secondary-tertiary rights, bidding frenzy, etc., but the parts I remember best were his profound remarks on negotiating skills. It was like the zen of negotiating.
I recall that he described success in negotiation not necessarily getting the absolute best terms in any particular deal. Instead he talked about leverage, the next deal, the long haul, being straight, and so on. My written words do not do justice for the passion and sagacity in which Chuck covered these various topics.
And all this just for me, a rapt audience of one in a half-flight balcony up the creamy marble stairs overlooking the dripping-with-excess Waldorf entrance lobby.
This was very cool, and this will be my endearing memory of Chuck Gerber.
-- By Nick Infante, Clips Editor
EXCERPTED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL:
Longtime media executive Chuck Gerber, who died Nov. 6 at the age of 71 after a short illness, will be remembered less for what he did than how he did it.
Thatâ€™s not to say that he had a bland career. Described as an "iron marshmallowâ€ â€” an old softie with a rough exterior â€” Gerber had one of the gaudiest résumés in college sports. He helped create successful TV channels like ESPNU and SEC Network. He negotiated deals that brought billions of dollars in media rights fees to the SEC. He consulted for the NCAA, College Football Playoff â€¦ you name it.
But in the days after his death, Gerberâ€™s closest friends remembered his larger-than-life personality more than his business accomplishments.
Take Mike Slive, for example. When Slive was asked to be commissioner of the SEC in 2002, one of his first calls went to Gerber, whom he had befriended years earlier when Slive was at Conference USA and Gerber at ESPN. The two met at the Atlanta Hyatt in the back corner of a restaurant.
When asked over the summer what he said to Slive at the time, Gerber took a long pause and said with his gravelly voice, "The first thing I said to him was, â€˜Do they know youâ€™re Jewish?â€™ We both laughed.â€
Gerber followed that quip with sage advice, telling Slive: "If you want to leave a legacy in college sports, you canâ€™t do it from Conference USA. You can do it from the SEC.â€
* * * * * *
One of the most-read stories about Gerber in SportsBusiness Journal resulted from the negotiations between the NCAA and Turner Sports, which teamed with CBS to win the March Madness rights in 2010. It was a short sidebar about the two consultants who worked on the deal for the NCAA â€” Gerber and Kevin Oâ€™Malley.
Oâ€™Malley represented several schools and conferences and often negotiated against Gerber when Gerber ran college sports for ESPN. In 2010, they were brought together in a strange alliance â€” consultants who would tag-team the NCAAâ€™s negotiations.
Neither of them went into the arrangement optimistic. Their styles couldnâ€™t have been more different, so much so that the headline to the SportsBusiness Journal story simply read: "The Odd Couple.â€
From the story: Kevin Oâ€™Malley is fine dining, while Chuck Gerber is the local deli. Oâ€™Malley is Brooks Brothers and penny loafers, Gerber is a sweater and no socks. Oâ€™Malley is a well-crafted, polite perspective, usually topped off with a subtle smile. Gerber is a salty argument, usually topped off with a four-letter word.
Oâ€™Malley recalled that, after a long day of negotiations in Atlanta, the two went for a walk. They settled in a downtown restaurant and talked about the day.
"I wanted to put more pressure on the networks that were bidding,â€ Oâ€™Malley said. "But Chuck said, â€˜Theyâ€™re trying hard, letâ€™s give it a few more days.â€™ I told Chuck that he was blowing his cover because everyone knew him as a tough guy. â€˜Youâ€™re really just a teddy bear.â€™â€
As they got up from the table, Gerber replied: "Donâ€™t tell anyone. I wouldnâ€™t want that to get around.â€