Legends Behind the Lens: Geoffrey Mason
One of sports TV’s most accomplished executives was in on the launch of countless groundbreaking projects
The story of American sports television is engrained in the history of this nation, rising on the achievements of countless incredible men and women who never once appeared on our screens. During this pause in live sports, SVG is proud to present a celebration of this great industry. Legends Behind the Lens is a look at how we got here seen through the people who willed it to be. Each weekday, we will share with you the story of a person whose impact on the sports-television industry is indelible.
Legends Behind the Lens is presented in association with the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the SVG Sports Broadcasting Fund. In these trying times — with so many video-production professionals out of work — we hope that you will consider (if you are able) donating to the Sports Broadcasting Fund. Do so by visiting sportsbroadcastfund.org.
With a life-long affinity for startups and fixer-uppers, Geoffrey Mason has been involved with the launch or re-launch of dozens of networks, productions, and individual careers. One of sports television’s most accomplished executives, he has more than 40 years of domestic and international production experience, including seven Olympic Games, six World Cups, and multiple America’s Cup races. The consummate freelancer, Mason has worked for ABC, NBC, Fox, ESPN, and NFL Network over five decades in the business, mentoring hundreds of co-workers along the way.
“The incredible thing about Geoffrey is how he has managed to remain relevant through so many decades of sports television,” says Howard Katz, SVP of broadcasting for the NFL. “Geoff brings an incredible passion and commitment to every project he works on. He also loves teaching young people and sharing his incredible knowledge.”
Mason began his career in Marblehead, MA, covering the yachting beat for the Boston Herald. A 1963 graduate of Duke University, he was a member of Beta Theta Pi, as was ABC Sports VP of Production Chuck Howard, who put him on a list of available runners. In January 1967, while still on Navy shore duty, Mason drove to Las Vegas to score the golf Tournament of Champions, the first of a dozen productions he worked, from track and field meets to Wide World of Sports events.
That September, Mason joined ABC Sports full-time as a production assistant. After lending his talents to everything from football and tennis to five Olympic Games, he moved to Europe. In 1976, he opened ABC’s full-time production office in Paris, but, four months later, NBC Sports made him an offer he could not refuse. He abruptly moved 10 blocks away to open NBC Sports’ first Paris office.
In 1981, Mason returned to NBC Sports in New York as executive vice president, but, soon thereafter, his life collapsed.
“In September of 1983, I checked myself into the Betty Ford Center. I was a helplessly addicted alcoholic,” he says. “NBC was very supportive, and, by the end of 1983, I was starting to get my life back.”
Says ABC Sports producer/director Doug Wilson, “No one else comes to mind that bottomed out and then came back and established himself as one of the leaders in the country — if not the world — in sports television. His longevity in this business and his contributions to the business speak for themselves.”
After leaving Betty Ford, where, until last month, he was the ranking member on the board of directors, Mason returned to NBC but soon began to spread his wings. He traveled to Fremantle, Australia, to produce the 1986 America’s Cup race; flew to Calgary, AB, to serve as coordinating producer of the 1988 Winter Olympics for ABC Sports; and then returned to ABC Sports as executive producer.
“In 1991, I left because I got bored,” he says. “I became an independent contractor, out there doing my own thing.”
Over the next five years, Mason directed the world feed for the America’s Cup, headed up the organizing committee’s broadcast operation at the 1994 FIFA World Cup, helped Fox Sports Chairman/CEO David Hill launch the network’s NFL studio show, and consulted for virtual-graphics supplier PVI. In 1996, Mason became executive producer of ESPN International, where he oversaw the 1998 World Cup in France, the first official joint production between ABC Sports and ESPN.
“Working with Geoff Mason is a gift. He will teach you everything there is to know about television production, and he will freely offer you the most honest feedback you will ever hear. Geoff’s legacy will live on through the countless people who have learned from him.” — Jodi Markley, ESPN SVP of Operations
Between 2000 and 2010, Mason headed up two America’s Cup productions in New Zealand, served as executive producer of ESPN Regional Television, coordinated the production of three FIFA World Cups, and was integral to the launch of the NFL Network, among other endeavors. He currently serves as senior production specialist for ESPN as well as head of production planning for FIFA World Cup soccer.
“There is no fatigue in that man,” said sportscaster Lesley Visser. “He wasn’t felled by alcoholism or the ups and downs of the business. He’s always there, with ideas and a sense of humor. He’s really central to a lot of people’s lives.”
Mason has worked for a half dozen networks over five decades in the business, but his heart lies with ABC Sports, for which he helped create an online alumni group and works to keep the family together.
“He’s like the ABC Sports family mentor,” says ABC Sports analyst Donna De Varona. “If anybody is ever in trouble, Geoff will be there.”
Mason has been in the truck for plenty of iconic sports moments, from the Borg-McEnroe epic final at Wimbledon in 1980, to Franz Klammer’s downhill gold in the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics, to the terrorist murders at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and the 1989 earthquake-interrupted World Series in San Francisco. Of all his accomplishments, though, he takes the most pride in ensuring that other people succeed, and few of his co-workers have ever forgotten that.
“He’s one of the great professionals in the history of the business,” said ABC/NBC producer/director Don Ohlmeyer. “He has a repertoire of expertise that very few people in American broadcasting approach, and he’s also a man with considerable compassion. He has done an awful lot in terms of straightening out the personal lives of people in the business.”
Visser added, “He is a combination of courage, grace, and stamina. For someone to have lasted at such a respected level over more than five decades is really a tribute to who he is.”