Lazarus Becomes Power Player Again Almost Overnight
Now, comes word that Ken Schanzer, who has run day-to-day operations under Ebersol for 13 years, is also leaving what is now the NBC Sports Group. As with Ebersol's departure, that could bring more speculation about Comcast wanting to cable-ify NBC and what kind of executives it appreciates. But that thinking could also use a break since an outsider has a better chance of figuring out Fermat's Last Theorem than divining what Steve Burke is thinking.
What is remarkable and worth indulging about the turnover at NBC Sports is the quiet, but rapid, reemergence of Mark Lazarus. In just a matter of months, he's gone from relative obscurity at an Atlanta sports marketing firm to running the whole darn thing as the new NBC Sports Group chairman.
Now, he'll oversee the broadcast of at least one Olympics (London next summer), the next Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup and who knows what other properties Comcast will buy, plus the refashioning of multiple cable networks under an NBC Sports moniker.
In February, Ebersol brought the former top-level Turner executive aboard to head the Golf Channel, Versus and the 11 Comcast regional sports networks. With Lazarus' knowledge of programming, ad sales and affiliate relations, it was assumed he would one day replace Ebersol -- but not in just 120 days.
Without giving short shrift to Lazarus' tenure as president of Career Sports & Entertainment, you can compare his time since being unceremoniously let go by Turner to a Major League Baseball player's being released, spending some time retooling in the minors, and then not just returning, but being named MVP.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Ebersol recounted how he opted to bring Lazarus to NBC. Last summer, before the Comcast-NBCU deal cleared, Burke told him his "life would be a lot easier" if he had a veteran cable executive in the C-suite.
Ebersol took a couple of days before saying Lazarus was the guy. Lazarus had spent 18 years at Turner, starting in 1990 as a sports account executive. Within a decade, he was in charge of Turner Sports, negotiating rights deals with the NBA and NASCAR and giving Turner operational control of NASCAR.com and PGA.com.
He also hired Charles Barkley, who has become a major draw for Turner's NBA coverage, showing an appreciation for talent in addition to business savvy.
But then, not long after taking over Turner Sports, Lazarus rose again, becoming president of Turner Entertainment Group. That included the Time Warner networks Cartoon Network, TBS and TNT - as well as truTV, where Lazarus was involved in the acquisition and integration of the former Court TV.
Yet early in 2008, a corporate reshuffling left one of the more powerful people in cable without a job. Ebersol told the Journal: "I've known Mark for the last 15 or 16 years. When he was really unfairly cast aside four years ago by Time Warner ... I kept up the relationship."
Kind of worked out for Lazarus, no?