Leaving a legacy in an organization is something many people can dream of. But leaving a lasting legacy in two important organizations? That is what the late Scotty Connal accomplished. During a 49-year career, he not only helped NBC News and Sports rise to the top but also played a key role in ESPN’s journey.
Born in New York City in 1928, Connal took his first step in the business on the bottom rung: as an NBC page in 1947. His subsequent 32-year career at NBC was highlighted by work on national political conventions, space launches, and even making the crucial decision to show Lee Harvey Oswald’s prison transfer live on-air. That move gave NBC the only live coverage of Oswald’s assassination.
In 1964, Connal’s career in sports production began in earnest when he was named administrator of sports. During that career, until his death of a heart attack during the Atlanta Olympics, he would shape the careers of many in the industry and even some of his eight children, a few of whom are in the business today.
“I think of his being a mentor to so many who today are production leaders and stars at ESPN and many other places,” says ESPN Chairman George Bodenheimer. “He and [fellow Hall of Famer] Chet [Simmons] were surrounded by young but passionate and dedicated people, and he led them by example and through direct coaching. He did this with everyone, not just the folks in production.”
Connal’s son Bruce echoes Bodenheimer’s sentiments. “He was a people person, and it didn’t matter if you were a security guard or a high-level exec,” he says. “One of his strengths was his ability to talk to people.”
At NBC, Connal helped make the network a leader in coverage of major events, notably the Super Bowl; the World Series; the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl; the NCAA Basketball Championships, the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan; college and professional football; and numerous golf tournaments. Among the highlights was an Emmy for the 1975 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox.
He also established his reputation as one of sports TV’s great innovators. Among his innovations were making sure golf viewers could hear the ball hit the bottom of the cup. For hockey, he created a yellow stripe at the bottom of the boards so that viewers could more easily see where the board ended and the ice began, even tinting the ice blue to make the puck more visible.
In 1979, he left NBC to join a fledgling network that went by the name of Entertainment Sports Programming Network, or ESPN. He was vice president of sports programming and operations for a network that planned to deliver not only sports but movies as well.
“I have to imagine he went home on many a late night wondering what the heck he had gotten himself into in the early days,” says Bodenheimer. “But we never saw that. All we saw was passion, patience, and an energy that belied his many years in the biz.”
At ESPN, Connal produced a series of television firsts: 10-hour coverage of the NFL Draft, production of USFL games in stereo, 150 basketball games in a season, and coverage of the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies and the College World Series.
Under his direction, ESPN won three ACE Awards, in 1981 and 1982 for the network’s tennis coverage and in 1985 for auto racing.
He eventually rose to the rank of EVP and COO before departing in 1987.
And his legacy lives on in a third place: his eight children and 16 grandchildren. Bruce works at Concom, the production company that Connal founded after leaving ESPN. Today, it is best known for handling UFC production demands around the globe.
Says Bruce Connal, “At least four of the eight children are still [involved in sports production], and at times five of the eight were involved, and now the grandchildren are getting involved.”
– Ken Kerschbaumer, SVG, Executive Director, Editorial