NetWorks Sports Spotlight Interview with Curtis Symonds, CEO of The HBCU Network (@HBCUNetwork)

NetWorks Sports Spotlight Interview with….Curtis Symonds, CEO – The HBCU Network
By Tracey Savell Reavis

Curtis Symonds (foreground), CEO of The HBCU Network

Are you ready for some football? SWAC or MEAC Conference football? Then get ready for blanketed coverage, as the new HBCU Network, set to launch later this month, will air a full slate of games such as the Howard vs. Morehouse rivalry, and more. And we have network CEO Curtis Symonds to thank for it.

Symonds is a cable-broadcasting and marketing veteran, who has been an executive producer, a VP and a COO for such companies as BET, ESPN and the WNBA, in a career that spans more than 25 years. He wants to bring attention to the 105 historically Black colleges and universities situated in 20 states mostly across the mid-Atlantic and south. He’s hoping to capitalize on the fact that no one else is providing programming on HBCUs for an HBCU audience. Aimed at African American students, young adults and HBCU alumni, the 24-hour cable channel will provide sports, entertainment and original programming, and help create awareness of the culture of HBCUs. In addition, the schools themselves will hold a 20 percent interest in the channel, providing incentive for its success. Symonds, an Oberlin, Ohio, native hopes with this month’s ‘soft launch’, and some much-needed grassroots support and word of mouth, the channel can count 10 million subscribers by the Feb. 2012 official launch.

We caught up with the busy executive, who’s been collecting a ton of frequent-flyer miles traveling between his home in Fairfax, Va., and Atlanta, Ga. where the cable channel is based. Symonds talked about how passion, sweat equity and confidence led him to this opportunity at this point of his career.

What are we going to see when the HBCU Network launches?
Sports will make up about 28 percent, with live game coverage. But it won’t be just sports. There will also be entertainment programs, lifestyle programming. We want to create more exposure for historical Black colleges. We want a platform of programming that really focuses on the history, the legacy, the lifestyle, the culture of historically Black colleges. We want to be authentic, we want to be aggressive, and we want to be audacious in our programming.

Why is it so important that there be an HBCU Network?
Because there is a lot of heritage there. This is our heritage. We feel that the fact that no one is really doing anything on historically Black colleges and universities, that we have a big window here.

And would you say not enough is being shown now, or is it that it’s not being shown in the right way?
I don’t think it’s being done at all. Right now ESPN does some Black college football and basketball games. But sports is only one element of historical Black colleges. There’s so much more than that. With this network and the programming, we want to expose why it makes sense to go to a North Carolina A&T, which has one of the best engineering divisions, or a Hampton, which has one of the best NASA programs in the country. We want people to become more aware of how great these places really are.

So your research has showed there is an audience for this?
No question. I think what is overlooked is how really big that audience is. The cable operators don’t understand how big the alumni base is across the country. I think this channel has the opportunity to be one of the biggest history makers in cable television that there has ever been.

What’s the vision of the HBCU Network, and what do you want to accomplish with the channel?
Really, we want to create more exposure for historical Black colleges. We want to showcase the 174-year history and heritage of HBCUs. We want to increase distribution, and drive more revenue to the colleges.

You sound pretty passionate about what you’re doing? Why do you believe so strongly in this channel, and why this project now?
The reason I believe in it is because I’m a baby of HBCUs. My mother taught at Central State University for 40 years, I graduated from Central State.  I’ve always believed in historically Black colleges.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in trying to launch this and how have you been successful in overcoming them?
The challenges have really been educating white cable operators on the value of this network and why this product makes sense. Many of them are not willing to take a chance, or they’re not willing to put themselves out there politically. It amazes me that in today’s world of cable television, no one has a problem with multiple Hispanic channels. And yet they want to limit the African-American channels to single digits.

What, if anything, would you say has been a key to your successful career?
There’s one thing that I can point to over my lifetime, one thing that has driven me. Back when I was in high school, I didn’t make the basketball team. And I told the coach then that was not going to stop me from playing college basketball. And it didn’t. I played four years. And that just told me that if I really want to do something, if I really put my mind to it, I can do it. That’s the same objective that I have for my life. I don’t stop striving because no one can tell me no.

What advice do you give young people starting out about how to reach their career goals?
First of all, today’s kids feel a certain sense of entitlement. They don’t understand sweat equity. But that’s what it’s about. I worked my ass off to be where I am today. No one gave me anything. I had to earn it. Today’s kids think, “I got a four-year degree, you owe it to me.” No I don’t. I don’t owe you shit. At the end of the day, you have to show me why I should hire you.

What do you think young people needed to focus on most starting out in their careers?
I tell kids to connect with people who can help you down the road on your career path. And sometimes that means stepping out of your comfort zone. Building your network is key. And investment. At the end of day it’s about ownership. Instead of dumping a million dollars on that house, invest in our community. We have to start thinking ownership.

You’ve worked for BET, ESPN, the WNBA, and I’m sure had a number of accomplishments along the way that you are proud of. What would you say has been the highlight of your career?
Well a highlight certainly was what I was able to do at BET. But I’d have to say this is it. This is what I’m proud of. To be able to run my own cable network … this is lager than life. I don’t think there’s a better opportunity out there. This is history making.

GET TO KNOW CURTIS
Daily Newspaper: Washington Post & USA Today
Top Vacation Spot: Hawaii
Favorite Place to Visit: Chicago
Favorite Sport(s): Football and Basketball
Favorite Type of Music: Jazz
Favorite Musician: Grover Washington, Jr.
Favorite Movie: Remember the Titans

Follow The HBCU Network on Twitter @HBCUNetwork and find out more about what he’s doing on his website www.hbcunetwork.com. You can show your support for The HBCU Network by Signing the Roll!

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Let us know what you think of this NetWorks Sports Spotlight Interview with The HBCU Network CEO, Curtis Symonds, in the Comment section below!

NetWorks Sports Poll of the Week – Should Texas Stay or Should they Go?

Just when we were all settling in to watch another exciting college football season and getting used to seeing Nebraska mentioned as a Big Ten school or Utah actually being in the conversation for a BCS berth, the folks in the Burnt Orange started flaunting their new Longhorn Network.  As a result, their rivals to the east, the Texas A&M Aggies started to make headlines as rumors swirled about their desire to leave the Bix XII and the SEC’s interest in adding them to make a mega-conference.

After several days of fiction, the SEC Presidents came out and said that they were not interested in adding another school…just yet!  Well, that is sure to change as A&M has notified the proper folks of their plans to “SEC-ede” from the Big XII Conference and the consensus is that they will soon announce that they will land in SEC country.

While Twitter went ballistic tonight as Under Armour and the Maryland Terrapins debuted one of their 32 iterations of uniform combinations (let’s hope the other 31 look much better), the main topic of conversation this weekend involved the great state of Texas.  If you’re a fan of sports, you’ve had this discussion at the water cooler, via Twitter, and at your family BBQ…

Take our poll:  If the SEC opens it’s arm to Texas A&M, what will Texas (and in essence, Oklahoma’s) response be.  Should the Longhorns stay in the Big XII or should they go elsewhere?

[polldaddy poll=5427824]  


My Top 15 WNBA Players of All-Time

By Angela Taylor

After spending the last 48 hours in San Antonio in anticipation of Saturday afternoon’s WNBA All-Star Game, which promises to be a wonderful celebration of 15 Tremendous years of the WNBA, many have asked me to share my Top 15 WNBA Players of All-Time.

Tomorrow at half-time the WNBA will recognize the 15 individuals who fans voted from a pool of 30 candidates.  While there are some very obvious choices, many have found it very difficult to identify their list of 15 simply because there truly are so many different individuals who have played a huge role in the league’s success over the last 1.5 decades.

A few of these individuals were left off the list, but that does not (and will not) diminish the impact that they have had on the league, its fans, its staff, and the young women who are the future of the game.  There are names like Andrea Stinson (aka Lady Jordan) who thrilled fans in Charlotte for years and on numerous occasions had fans in the Mecca of Basketball, Madison Square Garden, on their feet as she went coast to coast between defenders and finished with highlight reel flare.  Others who could easily have been placed on the list are Michelle Timms, Vickie Johnson, Michelle Edwards, Jennifer Gillom, Eva Nemcova, etc.

For your reference, here is the press release with the list of the 30 players nominated for this recognition.

But let’s not dwell on who wasn’t on the list and instead celebrate these 15 players who have been pioneers for the league and who have represented the league with such class and grace both on & off the court.  While the list won’t be revealed until tomorrow, I would like to share those who I feel should be on the list.  Four experts from ESPN shared their lists as well in this article.

Here’s my list of 15 in no particular order (but I took the liberty of listed a couple of additional honorable mentions):

  • Cynthia Cooper
  • Lisa Leslie
  • Sheryl Swoopes
  • Tina Thompson
  • Tamika Catchings
  • Diana Taurasi
  • Sue Bird
  • Dawn Staley
  • Nykesha Sales
  • Lauren Jackson
  • Yolanda Griffith
  • Katie Smith
  • Deanna Nolan
  • Ticha Penicheiro
  • Becky Hammon
  • Others:  Teresa Weatherspoon, Candace Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw, Swin Cash, Delisha Milton-Jones, Tangela Smith, Penny Taylor, Cappie Pondexter…

Whoever the 15 players are when they are unveiled on Saturday are very deserving of this honor.  It has been a pleasure for all of us to be a part of this journey we call the WNBA.  The best part of the league is its players. These very dynamic women who are so much more than just how many points they score or games they help their teams win.

The debate will rage on & new players will step up and challenge for the right to be considered the best that has ever played the game.  Names may fall off the list as new names are added, but the impact that EVERY player who has donned a WNBA uniform has had on people around the globe will never be forgotten.  The future is very bright for the WNBA thanks to those who have blazed the trails.

Tune in on Saturday to find out who will have the honor of being recognized as the Top 15 WNBA Players of All-Time!  Also stay tuned for some of my favorite moments from the 15 seasons of the WNBA

Catching Women’s World Cup Fever

 

On a typical Sunday in mid-July, households across the world were captivated by a group of women who potentially have rejuvenated fan interest in a sport that has been in hibernation ever since fan favorites Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain brought home the Gold Medal on a similar stage 12 years ago.

While Chastain & Hamm et al had, what we now realize was, much more at stake (the survival of a women’s pro soccer league in the states), the drama and intrigue for the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team was equally compelling.  If the 1999 group seemed to be the pioneers for women’s soccer at the elite level, then the 2011 team were flag bearers for the viability of the future of the sport.

Sometimes it takes a perfect storm to conjure up just enough steam to generate momentum.  Was this the perfect storm?

If Twitter is any indication (and we all now seem to use activity on this platform as confirmation of interest), the answer is YES!  The 2011 USWNT was in the midst of the perfect storm.  In fact, on Sunday evening, Twitter announced that a new record of tweets per second had been set at 7,196.  Eclipsing the activity around the Super Bowl, Osama bin Laden’s death, and the NBA Finals.

While media members debate whether or not this team is fair game for criticism for blowing two leads in the Final as the heavy favorite, the team can be grateful that the chatter hasn’t ended despite the disappointing and devastating outcome.  Truth is, as consumers of sports in all forms, many of us can’t resist analyzing this important moment in sports.  For many, the following questions come to mind:

1.  Was a sports starved American public (which included the President of the United States and his family), longing for any type of action as a result of the NFL & NBA lockouts, Tiger Woods’ absence from the Open, and a hangover from Derek Jeter eclipsing the 3,000 hit milestone last week? An 8.6 overnight rating on ESPN is a strong indication that a sports-starved public was more than willing to jump on the women’s soccer bandwagon.  For the avid sports fan, the absence of NFL free agency and training camp talk along with the terse undertones of a potential long-term NBA lockout certainly contributed to the interest in the WWC.  But to say that is the only reason people tuned in is a disservice to the fans and to the women’s soccer team.  Through their play, they earned our respect and desire to tune in as they sought after the first WC Gold medal in 12 years.  A hungry child must eat.  If fans tuned in because this was the best option, they were pleasantly surprised with what may just become a sport they now choose to consume on a regular basis.

2.  Was the Nike Women’s Sports campaign influential? There is no disputing the fact that Nike and its agency, Wieden & Kennedy, produce many of the most compelling ad campaigns in the industry and their efforts around the WWC were no different.  Nike’s commitment to the USWNT certainly provides a certain bit of credibility, but doesn’t necessarily impact consumer behavior or viewing choices.  It may, however, sell quite a few of those purple Hope Solo jerseys that were wildly popular.

3.  How strong was the Twitter-effect? As is witnessed by nearly 7,200 tweets being sent per second during the World Cup yesterday, fan activity on Twitter definitely played a role.  Players tweeted about their experiences, fellow athletes offered their respect & support, and Twitter-nation rallied in support of the team.  For those who weren’t watching the games live, they were treated to play-by-play throughout the matches and tune in prompts when action got exciting.

4.  Was ESPN’s commitment to the World Cup and growing coverage throughout the tournament a factor? ESPN’s commitment to the WWC was impressive.  They covered all of the matches, offered pre-match analysis, involved various experts (and former players) to share their opinions & analysis, and invested in making this a great event for the network.  As the tournament continued, ESPN’s covered picked up with post-game interviews and interviews on off days.  This allowed us to get to know the personalities of the rising stars.  In what had to be a moral victory for the 2011 team, the tone shifted from recounted the successes of the 1999 team to admiring the fierce competitors on the 2011 team.  Fans will still have Hamm, Foudy, and Chastain etched in their memories, but now a new generation of soccer playing role models have staked their claim on our respect & admiration.

5.  Is it the marketability of stars like Hope Solo and Alex Morgan? This isn’t even a question.  Simply Google Mia Hamm and you will realize how important it is for a struggling sport/league to have marquee stars. Over the course of Sunday’s Final, as reported by CNBC’s Darren Rovell, Morgan’s Twitter followers increased by 70%.  Yet, an important point to emphasize here is that these players are marketable primarily because THEY CAN PLAY!  Mia was one of the best (if not the best) players in the game who also was well-spoken and willing to carry the sport on her shoulders with her fellow teammates.  From what we can tell thus far, these players carry similar characteristics and both should be part of the USWNT for years to come.

6.  Is it the clutch play(s) by Abby Wambach that garnered instant respect with other professional athletes? Skip Bayless constantly harps on the “clutch gene” as he rates players in various sports.  In fact, despite his stellar play in the Eastern Conference Semis versus Boston & Finals against Chicago, LeBron’s fourth quarter disappearances in the NBA Finals still leaves Bayless questioning his clutch-ability.  Wambach’s huge clutch performances and game winning goals certainly made her one of the stars of this team.  To validate the impact clutch performances have on fan interest, we don’t have to look to far.  Remember Michael Jordan’s follow through as he hit a last second jumper in the Finals against Utah.  Think about Joe Montana & John Elway’s Super Bowl winning drives.  Recall Christian Laettnar’s game winner against Kentucky.  Clutch plays can make a career legacy!

7.  What will be the long-term impact of losing in the Final? Unfortunately, despite a cinderella-like journey through the World Cup that saw the team get off to a slow and unimpressive start, this loss will definitely have a negative impact on what “could have been” if the team brought home the gold.  The individual players will still benefit greatly from performing so well on this global stage, but they may not be able to generate as much off the field as they would have otherwise.  In addition, while interest will be boosted in WPS here in the states, we all love winners and may have somewhat of a hangover from the loss that stands in the way of us being motivated to tune into women’s soccer.  Hope Solo and Abby Wambach will now be household names and if they go on to win a Gold at the Olympics, they may be able to recapture some of what they lost.  It’s almost impossible to quantify the impact, but many of us will go on and say “what if”.

Despite the loss, the team captivated many unexpected fans. Possibly the coolest group of fans watching the theatre that became the Women’s World Cup Final was the POTUS and his family.  Huge fans of sports and fitness, the Twitter community was outwardly impressed that President Obama was not only watching the match with his family but also live-tweeting throughout the match.

Along with the question of whether or not sports fans will jump on board the women’s soccer bandwagon once the team returns to the states and their teams in the WPS, is the financial impact this attention will have on the new soccer stars Solo, Morgan, and Wambach.  An article in AdAge estimated that the stars each could have garnered $3 million – $4 million in endorsements with a victory.  Their eventual endorsement opportunities may not meet those expectations due to the disappointing outcome, but their agents’ phones certainly will be ringing off the hook with endorsements that can bring 7 figure incomes.  A newbie to the team, Alex Morgan, promises to become the face of women’s soccer.  She’s young.  She’s attractive.  She’s athletic.  She scored her first two goals in World Cup competition in two important moments.  She has a chance to become the next Mia.

We all have been treated to some amazing soccer over the last couple of weeks.  There were exciting victories claimed in the waning moments of regulation.  There was plenty of star power for avid and casual fans to follow. There was an amazing display of talented young stars.  There was great coverage from media members who typically hadn’t covered women’s sports or women’s soccer.  There were enthusiastic crowds in stadiums in Germany, pubs around the globe, and living rooms across the country.  And there were millions of Americans who Caught World Cup Fever!!!

The question remains, will they soon find a cure for that cold or will they continue to feed off the momentum and add a new activity to their calendars.  For those women who have worked so hard to put themselves in position to succeed on the grandest of stages, they hope that our interest is not temporary but that we will all find our way to stadiums around the country and watch them display the same passion for their craft as they play in the WPS.

Peace…


Poll of the Day: Will Women’s Pro Soccer see a boost in support?

Millions of Americans tuned to ESPN this morning to catch semifinal action in the Women’s World Cup from Germany.  Inspired from an improbable U.S. comeback victory in the previous quarterfinal round game versus Brazil, men & women went to Twitter to provide their personal commentary on the game’s wall to wall action.

Immediately following the game, Women’s World Cup and Abby Wambach (albeit a misspelled “Wombach”) became Worldwide trending topics on Twitter.

Athletes and celebrities like LeBron James and Gabrielle Union tuned in, took to Twitter (click on their names to check out their tweets), and offered their support of the team.  More nationwide support will continue to build as everyone awaits the Championship game on Sunday.

Read more about the game in an ESPN article here.

In the 1996 Summer Olympic Games held in Atlanta, women’s team sports thrived and used the momentum they received to start professional leagues here in the United States.  After winning the gold medal in women’s basketball, two leagues were formed.  The ABL, which folded in December 1999 and the WNBA, which is celebrating its 15th Anniversary this summer.

Soccer also saw a league formed when the WUSA became a reality.  Unfortunately, with no big brother league to fund its start-up, the league eventually folded in the Fall of 2003 as well.  Only to see a similar league, Women’s Pro Soccer – WPS, revitalized in recent years as it started in March of 2009.

The percentages of young girls who would go on to participate in basketball & soccer soared in the subsequent years and will, undoubtedly, do the same as a result of the exciting & inspiring performance from sheroes like Abby Wambach & Hope Solo.

As we wait for the U.S. team to challenge for its 1st World Cup Championship in 12 years on Sunday against the winner of the Japan vs Sweden semifinal, NetWorks Sports wants to get your opinion on the impact the U.S. Women’s National Team’s performance in Germany will have on the future of WPS.

Tell us what you think by voting in our NetWorks Sports Poll of the Day:

[polldaddy poll=5231469]

 

Thanks for taking the NetWorks Sports Poll of the Day!