KENNESAW, Ga. | May 24, 2021
Sports broadcasting executive Brandon Howell, a 1995 graduate of Kennesaw State University, didn’t know how many problems he could juggle until the past year. As it turns out, it’s a lot.
“To say it has been challenging would be a bit of an understatement,” he said, laughing.
In 2020, Howell and his colleagues at Atlanta-based Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast were already dealing with wholesale change. The networks were sold in the late summer of 2019, and a transition away from the Fox brand was underway. Then a once-in-a-century pandemic hit.
“We weren’t really set up to work from home, and suddenly you have everybody in their house trying to work like they do in an office setting,” said Howell, who is vice president and general sales manager for the networks. “Then you tell them that we're not going to have live sports on the air. And then you tell them that we're still going to go through the process of being acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group, so all of the normal procedures and policies and goals are going to be consistently changing over the course of the year, too.”
In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic shut down the Atlanta Braves season, NBA games and other live sporting events that make up much of the content on the networks. The advertisers Howell and his team serve suddenly saw one of their prime outlets for reaching audiences in turmoil. Staring at what could be an overwhelming situation, Howell said lessons he learned as a scholarship basketball player and communications student at KSU helped him successfully move forward.
“In college, I took a management class, which I figured would help me in my future career. And, it has, just not in the way I thought at the time,” Howell said. “I thought it would be a normal class with a professor teaching management from a book.”
Instead, what he encountered was a course with instruction centered around a 1964 British film, “Zulu” in which a small group of soldiers faced an overwhelmingly larger force and survived.
“That class taught me to be open-minded about situations and not get turned sideways when things are not what I expected,” Howell said.
While the programming on the networks changed as sporting events were canceled, viewership on television and the audience for digital sports content actually increased as more people found themselves spending more time at home during the pandemic, Howell said. That proved to be good news for the network and advertisers.
As sports leagues began to develop safety protocols for their players and stage live sporting events again last summer, viewers and advertisers were eager, and ratings for the network were strong. The Atlanta Braves are a main attraction for the networks, and Major League Baseball resumed play with a shortened schedule beginning in late July and continuing through October.
Throughout the fall and winter, more and more live sports came back, and, while his staff continued to work remotely, the programming part of the business got back to something more normal, Howell said.
Still, the work of rebranding the networks under new ownership continued, and it’s the time management and multitasking skills he learned from being a student athlete that helped with that work.
“As a college athlete, you’re on your own for the first time,” Howell said. “You have classes, practice and have to study for tests. There’s a lot to juggle. I even learned to cook for myself. Those lessons have been valuable to me over past year.”
As the Braves 2021 season was set to start, the networks were rebranding themselves, partnering with a sponsor to become Bally Sports South and Bally Sports Southeast.
Howell said sports fans and advertisers are hopeful that this year marks a return to normal. He is, too, but is grateful that the lessons he learned at Kennesaw State helped him successfully navigate the toughest year of his career.
– Gary Tanner
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.