Sean McManus has had little time to reflect on his nearly 27 1/2-year tenure leading CBS Sports. Over the past month, there has been the men’s NCAA Tournament and this weekend’s coverage of the Masters.

If anything, McManus has approached the last six months since he announced his retirement with a greater sense of gratitude. McManus’ final event as CBS Sports chairman is at the tournament that is synonymous with the network.

“I’ve tried to soak them all in even more than I usually do and appreciate the incredible opportunities that I’ve had,” McManus said during an interview last week with The Associated Press. “Some is looking back, but looking back with nothing but pride and fondness for both the events I’ve been lucky enough to cover and the team I’ve assembled.”

McManus, who turned 69 in February, started to consider retirement two years ago. With CBS carrying the Super Bowl this year along with the NCAA Tournament and the Masters, McManus and CBS President/CEO George Cheeks agreed the timing was right. David Berson, president of CBS Sports for over 10 years, is McManus’ hand-picked successor.

McManus’ career started at a young age when he got a front-row seat to sports production by going to events with his father, the late Jim McKay, who hosted ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” and covered 12 Olympics.

McKay also worked at CBS from 1950-61 and hosted coverage of the Masters from 1957-60. This is the 68th straight year for the Masters on CBS, making it the longest current relationship between a network and sporting event.

“You think about 74 years with the McManus family having their fingerprints on an event. It’s pretty cool to think three-quarters of a century. His dad had a mark on the tournament. Sean had a gigantic mark on this tournament for 28 years. It’s pretty amazing,” said Jim Nantz, CBS’s lead NFL and golf announcer, who also called the Final Four from 1991 through 2023.

McManus started as a production assistant and associate producer at ABC Sports in 1977. Two years later, he moved to NBC and rose to vice president of program planning and development. In 1987, he was named senior VP of U.S. television sales and programming for Trans World International, a division of IMG, before joining CBS Sports as president in December 1996.

He was president of CBS News and CBS Sports from 2005-11 before being named CBS Sports chairman in February 2011.

“Very few people, if any, have ever impacted the sports media industry as much. On top of that, he’s the epitome of class,” Berson said.

McManus came to CBS Sports when it was mainly just weekend programming. That grew to a cable television network, website and digital streaming.

Neal Pilson. who was CBS Sports president from 1981-94, is among McManus’ many fans for the way he has navigated a changing landscape.

“Now I see the business as 10 times more difficult, and Sean has navigated a much more complex business environment certainly as well or better than I could have done,” he said.

McManus’ most significant achievements were bringing the NFL back to the network in 1998 and partnering with Turner Sports to carry the NCAA Tournament in 2010.

CBS was in many ways in the sports wilderness from 1994-97 when it didn’t have the NFL. It decimated the sports division and caused CBS to go from first to third in prime-time ratings and affiliate switches among stations in major cities.

Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti, who was with CBS Sports from 1997 through 2008, said not a day went by his first year when he and McManus did not talk about getting the NFL back.

“For someone who just got there, they really trusted him. The real skill was Sean getting the leaders at CBS motivated to do the deal,” he said.

CBS’ winning bid in 1998 was $500 million a year. Its current agreement runs through 2033 at $2.1 billion per season. With the NFL helping to promote programming, CBS returned to being the top prime-time network.

“It’s almost impossible, probably insurmountable, to have a broadcast network without the NFL,” McManus said. “It drives all of your distribution deals. It’s a promotional vehicle. That is enormous. And, I think, the broadcast model today depends greatly on sports in general and the NFL specifically.”

McManus oversaw nine Super Bowls, including Kansas City’s 25-22 overtime victory over San Francisco in February. The game was the most-watched program in U.S. television history, averaging 123.7 million viewers across television and streaming platforms.

Roger Goodell, an integral part of the NFL’s negotiating team on television agreements even before becoming commissioner in 2006, said McManus has long been a trusted counsel on broadcasting matters, even when it didn’t directly affect CBS.

“You need to find ways to improve fans’ experiences, and Sean has that voice and experience,” Goodell said. “His counsel was valuable because he was always the guy who would have a very honest and insightful perspective.”

McManus’ decision to team up with Turner for March Madness was motivated by two things: the tournament was losing money on CBS, and splitting the nation into eight regions without everyone having access to all games was outdated.

Starting with the 2011 tournament, the sales staffs for CBS and Turner worked together, while CBS’ Clark Kellogg shares the studio desk with TNT’s Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith.

The partnership also includes the network’s alternating coverage of the Final Four. TBS and TNT carried the title game for the first time in 2016. Beginning next year, each network will average paying $550 million per year through 2032.

McManus also ushered CBS into soccer with the Champions League and NWSL. The NWSL signed a wide-ranging rights deal that expanded its distribution across multiple networks, but a package of regular-season games remains on CBS, along with this season’s championship game airing in prime time for the third straight year.

“They saw us as the future of the sports audience, and because of that, they stretched the boundaries of the agreement with us,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said. “When I took the job, I challenged them about having our championship in prime time and what a big difference it would mark for us. And for the last two years of that deal, they worked to make it happen.”

McManus leaves CBS with all its critical properties locked up long-term. In addition to the NFL and March Madness, the NWSL goes through 2027, the Big Ten and UEFA Champions League rights run through the 2029-30 season, while the PGA Tour and PGA Championship deals don’t expire until 2030.

“The timing is right,” McManus said. “I think it’s good for the division, and it’s very good for me.”


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