Talking to Dick Ebersol, ‘the most powerful person in sports’, is like getting a masterclass in the art of storytelling.
Ebersol recently joined me in a video from his home in Telluride, Colorado, to talk about his new book, From Saturday night to Sunday evening.
Ebersol’s memoir takes readers behind the scenes as he co-created Saturday Night Live with Lorne Michaels in pioneering coverage of the Olympics and sports NBC. I contacted Ebersol after I was struck by how often “storytelling” appears in his book.
Although Ebersol’s book provides a fascinating history of televised sports, it also provides valuable insight for professionals in any field who need to create content and present ideas that engage, motivate and move their audiences.
“My priority was history, history, history.”
Televised sports are much different today than before Ebersol made his mark The NBCs sports and Olympic coverage. For most viewers, it’s hard to fathom that college football games used to be broadcast by just one camera located in the announcer’s booth. That began to change under Ebersol’s first boss, A B C president Roone Arledge. Ebersol credits Arledge with beginning to reinvent televised sports into a storytelling medium.
Arledge reimagined sports broadcasting in 1960 with a now-famous memo that read, “We’re going to add show business to sports.”
“Each game would be an epic story to tell,” Ebersol says. “The way to capture audiences for unfamiliar sports was to tell the stories of the athletes competing: to pique their curiosity and give them a vested interest.”
The mission of ABC Sports it was to tell viewers a story. To do this, Arledge added riser-mounted cameras to provide different angles. Meanwhile, handheld rolling cameras captured the action on the sidelines and large boom microphones captured the sounds on the field.
“He [Arledge] wanted the audience to see and hear the cheers in the stands, the players celebrating their games off the field, the coaches yelling at the referees for bad calls,” Ebersol writes.
Ebersol played a role in creating those epic stories when he accepted his first job at A B C as an Olympiad researcher, a position that did not exist at any of the networks. It was 1967 and the internet didn’t exist yet. This meant that Ebersol would have to travel around the US and Europe to find the best stories for newsmen like Jim McKay to share with the public in The wide world of Sports and the 1968 Olympics. Ebersol interviewed athletes, coaches and their families to learn as much as he could about their personal stories, stories that would attract more viewers.
“You couldn’t have asked for better story teachers than Jimmy and Roone,” Ebersol recalls. “They were my mentors. I was blessed.”
The lessons Ebersol learned from those teachers came back to haunt him years later when, in 1989, NBC asked him to run the network’s sports division. Ebersol called a meeting of about a hundred people and articulated his vision: “From now on, NBC Sports will prioritize storytelling.”
He said viewers should get to know the athletes, their backgrounds and the challenges they had to overcome to play on the big stage — whether it’s the NBA, the World Series, the Super Bowl, or the Olympics.
“Storytelling was not a course they learned at NBC,” Ebersol recalls. “My priority was history, history, history.”
Storytelling is collaborative.
Ebersol’s experience and knowledge should remind leaders that storytelling is collaborative, “a team sport.”
Storytelling plays a vital role in any organization. Universities share inspirational alumni stories to attract high caliber applicants. Startup entrepreneurs share origin stories to attract investors and motivate teams. And companies of all sizes share customer success stories to attract more customers.
As a leader, you can be the one sharing stories in presentations, memos, articles, and interviews. But since storytelling is a team sport, the task of finding and compiling these stories into compelling stories should be everyone’s responsibility.
Yes, marketing and publicity departments can turn those stories into assets to share across platforms, but executives need to help identify stories from their journeys and salespeople need to come back from their meetings with new stories. of clients and case studies.
According to Ebersol, the Olympics are “the home of storytelling” because most viewers tune in only when they care about the athletes and just hear stories that touch their hearts. A similar formula works for any business – customers and employees are more likely to connect with a brand if they are moved by the story.
Build a storytelling team to race ahead of the competition.