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Former Disney CFO Joins Internet Start-Up

Internet: The executive's move raises the profile of Broadband Sports, which operates Web sites.

October 27, 1999|KAREN KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A little-known Internet start-up in Century City landed a big-name chief executive Tuesday in a deal that brings former Walt Disney Co. executive Richard Nanula back to Los Angeles.

Nanula is the new chairman and chief executive of Broadband Sports, a firm that produces and operates sports-related Web sites. His appointment immediately raises the privately held company's profile as it looks for a way to set itself apart from a crowded field of online competitors.

"He lends instant credibility to this company," said Patrick Keane, an online analyst with Jupiter Communications in New York. "A lot of these [Internet] ventures that have $60 million in the bank aren't able to get the kind of seasoned executive like Nanula. He's a brand name in and of himself."

Nanula earned that recognition during his 12 years at Disney, where he twice served as chief financial officer. After the Burbank-based media giant bought Capital Cities/ABC in 1996, Nanula was instrumental in integrating the companies' operations. He also helped turn around a struggling Euro Disney project in 1994 and headed the company's chain of retail stores.

The Pasadena native, 39, left Disney in 1998 to become president and chief operating officer of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., a company headed by his longtime friend and Harvard Business School classmate Barry Sternlicht. Nanula was forced out of the White Plains, N.Y., company in April after a personal falling-out with Sternlicht.

Still, Nanula remained a hot property in a tight job market. After examining a variety of opportunities, he had narrowed his focus to Internet firms. Broadband Sports appealed to the sports fan in him.

"A lot of other [Internet companies] were compelling investment ideas, businesses that should be done, but they were not something I wanted to get up every Monday morning and do for a living," Nanula said Tuesday.

Broadband Sports creates Web sites for top athletes such as baseball star Ken Griffey Jr. and tennis player Anna Kournikova, covers college and professional teams for customers such as Yahoo and America Online, and provides sports statistics to fantasy league players. The firm also sells sports merchandise and collectibles online.

Tyler Goldman, who founded the company in 1996, wouldn't reveal the company's revenue, but Nanula said Broadband Sports is well-financed. The company counts among its investors venture firms Sequoia Capital and Institutional Venture Partners, along with Frank Biondi Jr., former chief executive of Seagram Co.'s Universal Studios. The company has 125 employees and plans to grow to 200 by January, Goldman said.

By jumping to Broadband Sports, Nanula follows several other executives who have left the Fortune 500 in search of the massive payoff potential that Internet start-ups can offer. Nanula will receive options to buy about 10% of the company, and his compensation will be "almost completely from an equity standpoint," he said.

The attraction doesn't surprise Warren Bennis, an expert on leadership at USC's Marshall School of Business.

"There's a certain romance and glamour--as well as bucks--when you're talking about going to an Internet company," he said.

The match brings Broadband a leader with a strong background in corporate finance. Online analysts noted that the company will particularly benefit from Nanula's background in media and merchandising.

Nanula said he isn't concerned about his lack of experience in the Internet business.

"I think of myself as a businessman, a strategist, a manager," he said. "At the end of the day, any CEO is doing that for a living."

Nanula will need those skills to help Broadband Sports stand out among the competition. Web sites operated by ESPN, CBS SportsLine and CNN/SI lead the pack, followed by the official sites of professional teams. Only a handful of other sports sites have managed to attract a significant following, and making money is even more difficult, said Mark Hardie, senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

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