It would be hard to accomplish as much in life as Harvey Schiller. There was the doctorate in chemistry from the University of Michigan and 24 years as an Air Force pilot, with combat service in Vietnam. The brigadier general later switched to sports management and held a series of high-profile posts: commissioner of the Southeastern Conference; chief of the U.S. Olympic Committee; head of sports at Turner Broadcasting; and co-founder of the lucrative New York Yankees regional Yes Network.
Now, the 70-year-old is plying his skills as CEO at publicly traded GlobalOptions Group, which helps big business with security issues and crisis management, but maintains a prominent role in sports.
Still, there was a recent public failure -- against odds tougher than hitting a homer off a Mariano Rivera cutter. After the International Olympic Committee dropped baseball from future Olympics, Schiller championed its return. Yet in October, his lobbying came up and the IOC denied reinstatement of both baseball and softball.
But Schiller remains a proponent of the Olympic movement. Reuters even named him a potential candidate to become the USOC's next CEO. And he has ample thoughts on what can be done to repair the fractured relationship between the IOC and USOC, which appears to have led to the rejection of Chicago as host of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Schiller blogs, tweets and has a Facebook page to share thoughts on sports broadcasting, among various topics. He shared some with MediaDailyNews.
MDN: Would you accept an offer to head the USOC?
HS: What I've said to them is: I'm not looking for a full-time position. I would help for an interim period, but not for the long term.
MDN: What are some of the causes of the fracture between the IOC and USOC?
HS: In general, it gets down to money. The IOC members feel that the USOC is getting an unfair distribution. They're getting too much of the pie. That has been one of the major disconnects that has occurred in these last few years. Also, there's been a separation of just basic views between Europeans and the U.S. Some of that has to do with the invasion of Iraq and what's happening on the global basis economically. On a personal note, I find the IOC members to be just as friendly as ever, but when you talk about things in a global nature, I see the greatest disconnect that I've seen in the 30 years I've been associated with them.
MDN: If the IOC could have received more money from TV rights fees in the U.S. by selecting Chicago for the 2016 Summer Games, why did it reject the city's bid?
HS: That's a good argument -- an excellent point. It gets back to the disconnect between the European voters and some of the others. Some of the newer members of the IOC come from Muslim countries, or countries that have a large Muslim population, and I think that adds to it. It gets back to what the new USOC leader needs to have. He (or she) needs to come to some agreement on marketing and TV dollars with the IOC. At the same time, enhance the visibility of American cities, so that they're more valuable for the Winter and Summer Games.
MDN: You tried to get baseball reinstated in the 2016 Games. You weren't able to persuade the IOC. How frustrating was it?
HS: It was horrible. Because the rules kept changing on how the sports were going to get picked. (IOC) President Jacques Rogge changed the rules, and he said we'll leave it up to the executive committee. And once that happened, it was clear the focus of the IOC leadership was to bring in sports like rugby and golf -- softball and baseball suffered.
I would hope that it's not over for 2016. Now that the Games are going to be in the Americas (Rio de Janeiro), with the strong support from the Latin nations and the Pan-American sports organization, perhaps there'd be some consideration for baseball in 2016 again.
MDN: General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt said NBC Universal will lose about $200 million on the coming Winter Olympics; Rupert Murdoch said carrying the games is unprofitable. When you headed up the USOC (from 1990-94), were the Olympics a profitable venture for the networks that carried the Games or more of a loss leader?
HS: It absolutely was a money maker during that period of time. The Murdoch properties wanted to be an Olympic carrier in those days, and they fought very, very hard to carry the Olympics. So they thought it was in their best interest for development -- and not just domestically in the United States, but throughout the world. Things change, obviously.
MDN: ESPN appears fiercely determined to obtain broadcast rights to the 2014 and 2016 Games. NBC Universal has expressed an interest in its current incarnation and may have more to spend with its new relation with Comcast -- how do you break it down?
HS: Having sat on the other side during the bidding, it's always the (highest bidder) that gets it. But you can't underestimate the relationship that (NBCU Olympics chief) Dick Ebersol has with the IOC leadership. It's Dick against all the other networks -- that's probably the easiest way to put it. The (highest bidder will win), but whatever else can be done in supporting that number (can help). He has the advantage because of his history and relationship with the leadership.
MDN: What is the future of league-owned networks with so many hours a day of programming to be filled and distribution issues?
HS: What they represent is what you see on the magazine rack. If you like hockey, you're going to buy the hockey magazine. If you like football, you're going to buy the football magazine. So, they're really a magazine on the air. The one thing that's always a challenge is how critical (they can be of the leagues that own them). ESPN can be critical of the leagues or players or teams. If you're the NHL Network, are you going to attack the commissioner?
MDN: Looking ahead to 2010, are there three themes that you think will dominate sports?
HS: College sports. They will continue to grow because of the particular regional interest and the success of college football. With or without a BCS (playoff), it will continue to grow. Second, the National Football League will continue to grow fans and grow interest. Probably the third part is that people will return to the basics. If you look at the New York Times' 10 most-emailed articles prior to January of this year, they were all focused on financials. Now they're all on lifestyle. So anything that fits into lifestyle will play well for sports.
MDN: What is GlobalOptions Group? How does someone who is so experienced and respected in sports get to a company like that?
HS: First of all, I'm a 24-year veteran of the Air Force. But GlobalOptions is a risk management company. We've acquired companies in the disaster preparedness, investigations and security areas. I was on the advisory board and now I'm the chairman and CEO. We're a big business and NASDAQ-listed stock. And as any CEO, you're out there marketing the company, and working with shareholders and raising capital -- that's what I do every day.
MDN: Any plans to return to sports?
HS: Yes. I don't know (in what capacity). We'll see what tomorrow brings.