Major League Businessman: ESPN Executive Burke Magnus ’88 Hits Home Runs for Sports Fans Everywhere

From overseeing programming and scheduling for ESPN to his favorite sports movie, Magnus discusses his career trajectory and interests
January 15th, 2018 by 

Magnus during the 2016 SEC men's basketball Tournament at the Bridgestone Arena
Magnus during the 2016 SEC men's basketball Tournament at the Bridgestone Arena. Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images

It’s not just athletes who start at the bottom and, after years of developing their skills in the minor leagues, break into the big time and sign major contracts. Sports businesspeople work just as hard as they rise through their industry and develop their negotiation skills until they can make multimillion-dollar deals for their corporation.

Case in point: Burke Magnus ’88, executive vice president of programming and scheduling for ESPN, who began his career as an intern and, today, travels around the world and negotiates contracts to secure broadcasting rights with European soccer leagues; international major golf and tennis tournaments; NFL, NBA and MLB games; and college football and basketball games — including many bowl games and the College Football Playoff.

But that’s half the job for Magnus, whose department also oversees ESPN’s content strategy and scheduling — in other words, deciding when to feature events so they will generate the most viewers while keeping sports fans happy.

Don’t blame him if ESPN doesn’t broadcast every basketball game involving must-see teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics or the NBA Champions Golden State Warriors. Squads dwelling at the bottom of the standings like the Philadelphia 76ers need time on the tube, too.

“Our agreement rights contract with the NBA specifies the maximum and minimum number of times we can put teams on. At the same time, we look at trying to build a schedule that will engage the largest possible audience,” says Magnus, who admits it can be a bit of a juggling act. But the bottom line is each league he negotiates with is just as interested in face time as it is in generating revenue.

“The business side of sports is more of a relationship business, and relationships work best when both sides are invested in building something,” he says. “The priorities of our TV partners are in growing their sports. It’s not just all about the money, but creating a true partnership and growing viewership for their league.”

When Magnus joined ESPN as a program associate in 1995, the cable network was available in about 65 million homes, according to Nielson. Today, ESPN produces more than 64,000 hours of live entertainment and studio programming and averages up to 115 million viewers a month.

“Sports programming is no longer just TV,” he says. “We produce content for mobile, online, social media, digital and radio. Our mission is to serve sports fans anywhere, anytime. But TV is still our primary vehicle.”

The Big Score

Magnus played sports with friends for fun while growing up and he joined the club rugby team while attending Holy Cross. “I realized as I matured that my DNA was getting in the way of a particularly spectacular career,” he jokes. “I played rugby for four years to not much acclaim. But it was fun to socialize and keep active.”

Magnus was a history major, and it was his history professors that set him on his sports career path. Professor William A. Green, his adviser, helped him during his junior year away in Washington, D.C., where he secured a position writing for the “National Catholic Reporter” newspaper.

“And Professor (David J.) O’Brien cemented me in the direction of loving the media business. I got the bug for journalism, and he encouraged me to write. I focused on sports writing and wrote for the sports section of ‘The Crusader’ — hard-hitting stories about intramural sports,” he says with a laugh.

Looking back at his time at Holy Cross, Magnus says, “My Jesuit, liberal arts education taught me how to think, how to question, how to communicate and how to write. It’s amazing what you can do and where you can go when the foundation of your education is solid.”

After graduation, he held a number of non-writing, non-sports-related positions, including several in the legal system. At one point, he contemplated law school, but he wasn’t ready to give up on a career in sports.

“Sports was a passion, the only thing I cared about morning, noon and night,” he remembers. “It nagged at me that I should make a career of it someday. I just loved it so much. But it was difficult to figure out how to get started. I knew nobody in the business. My parents had no connections. Then I learned about the sports management program at the University of Massachusetts.”

He earned a master’s degree in sports management in 1995. During his studies, he secured an internship in the programming department at CBS Sports, worked hard at his job, networked and made contacts at NBC, ABC, FOX Sports and ESPN, and sent out a pile of resumes. An executive at ESPN called for an interview, and he joined the network a few months after leaving UMass.

He was quickly promoted from program associate to program planner, and rapidly rose through the ranks and gained more responsibilities. In 2000, as director of programming and acquisitions, he was responsible for ESPN’s men’s college basketball programming and scheduling. By 2008, he was senior vice president of college sports programming and winning accolades; in 2006, he was named to “Sports Business Journal’s” Forty Under 40, honoring the most promising young executives in sports business; he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from UMass’ McCormack Department of Sports Management in 2011; and in 2013, he earned the National Football Foundation Legacy Award, for his support and leadership in promoting college football, while si.com — “Sports Illustrated’s” website — named him the fifth “Most Powerful Person in College Sports.”

Reflecting on his career and his hard work to rise to a top position in sports programming, he says, “The question people most often ask me — because I was a history major at Holy Cross — is ‘How did you end up where you are?’” He pauses a moment. “The whole world was telling me I had to be either a teacher or a writer. But I just kept asking myself: Isn’t there something else I want to do?”

Q&A with Burke Magnus ’88

If you could get a signed baseball, basketball or football, whose autograph would you want? I’m a big New York sports fan, so I’d want a baseball signed by Derek Jeter. And a basketball signed by LeBron James, because I have a connection with him: We did a deal to televise his high school games. I think he’s the greatest NBA player of all time.

What is your favorite sports movie? “Eight Men Out” (1988). I love the story of the Chicago Black Sox scandal. And I’m a big history buff.

What sports event in history do you wish you had seen? Tiger Woods winning his first Masters Tournament (1997). He gave an unbelievably dominant performance, and I like the way he handled being the first African American to win the Masters.

What is the strangest sport ESPN has ever televised? Trampoline dodgeball – it’s played just as it sounds, and it’s quite bizarre. And on every July Fourth, we televise Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. It’s a tradition.

Is chess a sport? Yes! My definition of sports is more broad than others’. Sports are competitions; they don’t have to be just an athletic endeavor.

Should Roger Clemens go into the Baseball Hall of Fame? (Pause.) Pass. I’ll just say I’m a Yankees fan.


Written by Benjamin Gleisser for the Winter 2018 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

About Holy Cross Magazine

Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

| More

Comments are closed.

12/11/18 Holy Cross’ Long-Term Study Abroad Programs Recognized for Tenth Year in a Row
12/04/18 Holy Cross Religious Studies Professor Is Sought-After Expert on New Religious Movements
11/30/18 Holy Cross Earns High Marks for Dining Services
11/30/18 Holy Cross Classics Professor Discusses Evolving Military Rations With HISTORY
See All

Multi-faith Community Prayer Day
1/21/2019
Featured
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
Multi-Faith Prayer Service, Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
1/28/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
Open to the Public
See More >>


MLK Book Read: Session 1
1/28/2019
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
We are excited to announce the fourth annual MLK Winter...
See More >>


Crusader Internship Fund Orientation Session
1/28/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 409
Come to the Crusader Internship Fund Orientation to learn all the details...
See More >>


Ticket Sales - Little Women: The Musical
1/28/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Ticket Sales - Little Women: The Musical
1/29/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


MLK Book Read: Session 2
1/29/2019
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
We are excited to announce the fourth annual MLK Winter...
See More >>


MLK Book Read: Session 3
1/30/2019
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
We are excited to announce the fourth annual MLK Winter...
See More >>


Crusader Internship Fund Wait List Info Session
1/30/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Ticket Sales - Little Women: The Musical
1/30/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women
1/31/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Lecture: Speaker - Jill Lepore
1/31/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Ballroom & 328
Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41...
See More >>


Ticket Sales - Little Women: The Musical
1/31/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women
2/1/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Little Women
2/2/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Little Women
2/3/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Careers in Psychology & Behavioral Health Info Session hosted by William James College
2/4/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Stop by the William James College info table to learn more about...
See More >>


William James College Info Table
2/4/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 3
Stop by the William James College info table to learn more...
See More >>


MLK Book Read: Session 4
2/4/2019
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
We are excited to announce the fourth annual MLK Winter...
See More >>


Ticket Sales - Little Women: The Musical
2/4/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Ticket Sales - Little Women: The Musical
2/5/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Crusader Internship Fund Orientation Session
2/5/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 403
Come to the Crusader Internship Fund Orientation to learn all the details...
See More >>


Ticket Sales - Little Women: The Musical
2/6/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women
2/7/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Ticket Sales - Little Women: The Musical
2/7/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women
2/8/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Ticket Sales - Little Women: The Musical
2/8/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the...
See More >>


Little Women
2/9/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little Women Book by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


Little Women
2/10/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Little WomenBook by Allan Knee, based on the novel by Louisa May AlcottMusic...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
2/11/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
Open to the Public
See More >>


Faculty Conversation Series-175th Anniversary
2/13/2019
175th Anniversary
Dinand Library Faculty Room
Subject: Mentoring: Spiritual Director as Model/MetaphorFaculty Conversation...
See More >>


Mimecast Info Table
2/19/2019
Center for Career Development Open to Campus Community Only Categories: Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 5
Stop by the Mimecast Info Table speak to representatives...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
2/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to the Public
See More >>


Lecture: Samuel Moyn on the Christian Invention of Human Dignity
2/26/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Samuel Moyn, professor of law and history at Yale University,...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
3/11/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


MPE Meeting
3/11/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


The Living Museum Exhibit
3/12/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


Faculty Conversation Series-175th Anniversary
3/14/2019
175th Anniversary
Dinand Library Faculty Room
Subject: EloquenceFaculty Conversation Series on Ignatian Pedagogy. The...
See More >>


Holy Cross College Choir Concert
3/15/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
The Holy Cross Choirs are back from their tour down the East...
See More >>


Organ concert - Benjamin Alard
3/17/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Benjamin Alard, OrganistChurch: Saint-Louis-en-Île,...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
3/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


MPE Meeting
3/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


175th Jesuits and Music Concert
3/29/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Many Holy Cross musical ensembles and performers will join...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/1/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


53rd Annual Hanify-Howland Lecture
4/2/2019
Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture
Holy Cross Campus
The 53rd annual Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture will be held April 2, 2019 in the...
See More >>


Science Engineering & Technology Networking Night
4/2/2019
Mathematics and Computer Science
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/2/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/3/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/4/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/4/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/5/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/5/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/6/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/8/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Meeting
4/8/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Meeting
4/8/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/8/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/9/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/9/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/10/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/10/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/11/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/11/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/11/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/12/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/12/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/13/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Haberlin Hall 219
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Smith Laboratories 155
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Smith Laboratories 154
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
O'Neil Hall 112
Open to the Public
See More >>


Holy Cross College Choir Concert
4/27/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Giacomo Carissimi was the first great composer of oratorios,...
See More >>


Chapel Artist Series Organ Concert - Pavel Kohout
4/28/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Pavel Kohout, OrganistInternational Concert Organist, Prague,...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
4/29/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(09)
Open to the Public
See More >>


Dance Concert
5/1/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Dance ConcertMay 1 at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PMFenwick Theatre – 2nd...
See More >>


175th Anniversary Scavenger Hunt
5/17/2019
Featured Employee
Outdoor starting at Hogan
This Scavenger Hunt is being put on by the Mission and Identity Subcommittee...
See More >>

See All