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Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame 2023: Tony Petitti, the Renaissance Man of Sports Media

01/12/2023

Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame 2023: Tony Petitti, the Renaissance Man of Sports Media By Jason Dachman, Editorial Director, U.S.

Friday, December 1, 2023 - 2:06 pm

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Leading up to the 2023 Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame ceremony on Dec. 12 at the New York Hilton, SVG is profiling the nine inductees in this year's class. For more information, CLICK HERE

In the storied history of sports broadcasting, few stories are as expansive as that of Tony Petitti's career. With key roles overseeing programming and production, running TV networks on the local and national level, in Major League Baseball's front office, in corporate America, and, now, as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, Petitti has seemingly done it all in more than three decades in the business. And he has done it all while maintaining his status as one of the most respected and esteemed figures in the industry.

I don't know of anyone in our industry who has the combination of street smarts and management skills that Tony does, says CBS Sports Chairman and Hall of Famer Sean McManus. Above all else, you will never find a better father, son, or friend. No one deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame more than Tony.

A 14-time National Sports Emmy Award winner, Petitti has played a vital role in the success and evolution of the sports-broadcasting business while serving in senior executive roles at CBS Sports, ABC Sports, MLB Network, the MLB Commissioner's office, and the Big Ten Conference.

Tony has had an unbelievable career spanning more than three decades, says The Montag Group's Sandy Montag, a close friend and advisor. From working in production to starting a network, to being a deputy commissioner, and now as a commissioner, he has been a dedicated, hardworking, and loyal teammate who has a great reputation and will leave a lasting legacy on our industry.

Learning the ABCs' of Sports Television The son of first-generation American immigrants, Petitti grew up in Queens, NY, playing baseball and regularly heading to the ballpark with his father, a New York City police officer. He went on to play Division III ball at Haverford College, catching behind the plate for four years before heading to Harvard Law School. After receiving his law degree, Petitti served a short stint at the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft before kicking off his career in broadcasting in 1988 as a general attorney for ABC Sports.

I came into it with no background in [broadcasting] at all, recounts Petitti. I was learning as fast as I could over those first couple years. That's when I learned what went into creating a telecast in terms of programming, production, sales, and so on. Plus, I loved the ABC Sports broadcasts as a kid, and, suddenly, I was going into an office every day with pictures of Jim McKay, Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, and Keith Jackson on the walls. Just to be in that space that early in my career was pretty remarkable.

Petitti's legal career would come to an end when he took a position in the programming department at ABC Sports, eventually working his way up to VP of programming. He oversaw the acquisition and scheduling of college football and basketball, track and field, and NASCAR events and led the charge to expand coverage of the Little League World Series on ABC and the ESPN family of networks.

His biggest contribution at ABC Sports was likely his work alongside Southeastern Conference Commissioner Roy Kramer in creating college football's first No. 1 vs. No. 2 postseason championship game. After years of tireless negotiations with college commissioners, presidents, and athletic directors, the vision became reality in 1998 with the formation of the Bowl Championship Series to determine college football's national champion.

The biggest issue was that the Rose Bowl had an enormous tradition of having [exclusively] the PAC 10 and the Big Ten involved. He was able to bring them to the table to at least listen, says Kramer. It changed everything we had known as far as the postseason was concerned in college football.

The Tiffany Network Revival: Rebuilding CBS Sports into a Powerhouse

In 1997, Petitti joined CBS Sports, teaming with newly appointed President Sean McManus to rebuild the Tiffany Network sports portfolio after it lost its NFL rights package. As senior VP, business affairs and programming, his management responsibilities included all contract negotiations and future acquisitions. In addition to playing an instrumental role in returning the NFL to CBS, he built up such core events as The Masters, NCAA March Madness, SEC football, the PGA TOUR, and US Open tennis.

Sean was essentially charged with rebuilding CBS Sports, and the way to do that was to get the NFL back, says Petitti. I helped to lead the team and worked closely with Sean, spending every day for more than a year [strategizing about] how to get the NFL back and make CBS Sports stronger. It was an amazing experience to be part of that CBS Sports resurgence. With Sean leading the way, we changed the course of CBS Sports from that point forward.

In 1999, Petitti's career took an unexpected detour when CBS Television CEO/President Mel Karmazin asked him to take over as VP/GM of WCBS-TV New York despite his having no experience in local television. Though new to the local-news game, Petitti went on to oversee the transformation and reshaping of the CBS flagship station, including acquiring the over-the-air rights to broadcast New York Yankees games and helping to guide he station through the tumultuous days of 9/11 in 2001.

Though continuing in a special advisor role to McManus during three years at WCBS-TV, Petitti would return to CBS Sports full-time in 2002, serving as executive producer and, eventually,
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2023/12/01/sports-broadcasting-hall-of-fam...
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