If you're lucky, you can turn a good idea into a successful business once. Brian Bedol, 49, has done it twice. In 1994, the Cleveland native started the Classic Sports Network, which he later sold to Disney for an estimated $175 million. (It's now ESPN Classics.) Then, in 2003, Bedol launched CSTV, the first network devoted exclusively to college sports.
Two years later, CBS bought the network for a reported $325 million. After a successful run as CEO, Bedol in January became the network's senior adviser. Under his direction, CSTV changed the way college sports is covered, broadcasting close to 10,000 college games a year—from biggies like college basketball and football to previously ignored sports such as water polo and rugby. With March Madness just around the corner, we decided to hang with the man whose network you're bound to be glued to in the coming weeks.
HOW DID THE IDEA OF A COLLEGE SPORTS NETWORK COME ABOUT?
As an undergraduate at Boston University, I became a big hockey fan. But after graduating, I found it was really hard to keep up with how the team was doing. And I knew I wasn't alone. College-sports fans are different from pro-sports fans. There's a different level of passion, loyalty, and commitment. The focus is on the team on the front of the uniform, not the name on the back. There are also deep traditions and long-standing rivalries that make certain games more important than the championships. I wanted to build a network that recognized that passion of these fans.
TODAY, CSTV HAS BECOME MORE OF A BRAND THAN A NETWORK, ESPECIALLY IF YOU CONSIDER CSTV.COM AND HOW IT USES STREAMING VIDEO.
When we were getting started, we knew that live streaming video was not too far off in the future, so our business plan tried to take advantage of the fact that you have literally hundreds of college games being played at any given time. The idea of airing one game at a time doesn't work anymore. During March Madness, as a college basketball fan, I always thought it would be great if I could watch all the games at once. Now, technology is finally allowing us to move in that direction, creating a custom sports channel for every fan.
HOW WILL CSTV EVOLVE?
During March Madness in 2007, we had hundreds of thousands of simultaneous streams. This year we expect to break the million mark. During the tournament, we get up to 50 million different visitors, so we've had to sit down with the world's leading bandwidth experts to make sure that the incredible demand would not crash the site.
ANY BIG SURPRISES YOU'VE FOUND FROM PEOPLE'S VIEWING HABITS OVER THE YEARS?
Beyond the big events, I'm always amazed by the response that lacrosse gets. Lacrosse is one of those sports that 10 years ago was a popular regional sport in the mid-Atlantic [area]. Based on the traffic and ratings we see for games now, interest in lacrosse is growing faster than for any sport.
YOU'RE A FAN, BUT YOU ALSO SEEM PRETTY FIT. HOW DO YOU MANAGE THE TWO PURSUITS?
I enjoy participating in sports— particularly cycling—even more than I do watching them. I'd gotten to the point where I was sitting on the couch more and more. Then, one day I was running through the airport to catch a plane and I couldn't stop panting. I knew I had to get into shape. Working out is as much mental as it is physical. You need endurance and focus, and the only way to get that is to be healthy. So I started cycling with a vengeance. Over the past few years, I've done close to a dozen centurions [100-mile rides] around the world. When the weather is nice, I try to get at least one long 30- to 40-mile ride in a week and one or two shorter rides, and since my office is close to a gym, I work out four or fi ve times a week. It's hard work, but I think I've stopped myself from turning into a potato chip.