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Livin’ the Dream as GC of Red Sox Nation

August 27, 2013

By Larry Teitelbaum

From the Penn Law Journal Summer 2013 issue.

Consider the perks of Ed Weiss’ L’91 job. He reports to work every day high above the third base line at Fenway Park. His office sits no more than 10 feet away from the home plate concourse, and during baseball season he hears the roar of fans after a rally and smells the aroma of sausages on the grill. When he’s not at the ballpark, he hunkers down in his other office at the New England Sports Network (NESN) whose halls are decorated with the retired jerseys of iconic Red Sox and Boston Bruins players.

And when he’s not in either office you might find him decamped in Fort Myers, Fla., site of the Red Sox spring training camp, for his company’s annual ownership meeting and for what we’ll call reconnaissance.   

Can you believe he gets paid for this? Yes, life is good for this Boston native and denizen of Red Sox Nation who serves as general counsel and executive vice president of corporate strategy for the Fenway Sports Group, the umbrella organization that includes the Boston Red Sox, the Liverpool Football Club, NESN, Fenway Sports Management, and NASCAR team Roush Fenway Racing.

It’s enough to make a grown man exult. “I am often asked by Boston lawyers what is best about my job,” says Weiss, “and I tell them how lucky I am to be in the middle of the passion in the midst of arguably the greatest run of success any city has ever witnessed in sports, which makes you feel pretty good about coming to work every day.”

Weiss, who missed the Red Sox championship run last decade, joined the Fenway Sports Group in September, 2009. He leads a squad of five lawyers in the United States and another handful in the United Kingdom, home to the soccer team. He devotes much of his time to addressing media rights for the baseball and soccer teams (a regular season match between archrival Manchester United and the Liverpool Football Club reached 400 million households, more than three times the worldwide audience for the Super Bowl), some to the day-to-day operations of a large major league baseball franchise and even a bit of time to structuring programs for the Red Sox Foundation, a highly successful sports charity.

As great as his current job is, Weiss left a good gig at Time Warner, where he hung his hat for more than a decade. He handled worldwide litigation, regulatory and intellectual property issues for the likes of HBO, CNN, Sports Illustrated, and Warner Bros. But the opportunity to return home – and to an organization and team close to his heart – proved irresistible.

Like many young boys in Boston, or Philadelphia, or New York, Weiss worshipped his local teams. He lived and died with the Bruins, the Celtics, and the Red Sox. The baseball revival began in Boston when the Red Sox won the American League pennant on the last day of the 1967 season and made the World Series for the first time in twenty-one years. Too young to bear witness, Weiss, who played Little League Baseball, nurses boyhood memories of the valiant 1975 World Series loss when Carlton Fisk coaxed a decisive home run in Game Six to stay fair and keep the Series alive – a magical moment reenacted at playgrounds all over Boston and by the nine-year-old Weiss himself.  

But while baseball might be religion in Boston, Weiss realized quickly that it paid to practice separation of Church and State. In other words, when it comes to business, Weiss leaves his Red Sox cap at home. And let there be no doubt, baseball, like all sports, is BIG business.

“Sports teams have become mini-media companies,” notes Weiss. “They’re much bigger than the family-owned businesses they used to be. They are about different ways to galvanize an audience.”

Take the New England Sports Network run by the Red Sox and part-owners the Boston Bruins. While it doesn’t approach the scope of Time Warner, NESN covers a lot of ground. It brings games and sports programming in High Definition to four million homes in New England.

Then there’s the Red Sox Foundation, which counts among its efforts the long-running Jimmy Fund, an initiative with the Dana Farber Institute to raise money in the fight against childhood cancer, and a new partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital called Home Base, a groundbreaking program to offer medical treatment and support services to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.

While these are serious efforts, don’t get the idea that Weiss lives in a fun-free zone. You can crack his professional veneer with talk of baseball and the new season.

A few years ago, Weiss predicted during a law school reunion panel concerning the economics of baseball that the league would add another wild card team to the playoffs. That came true. The latest wrinkle is realignment, which equalizes the number of teams in each division and each league – leading to more interleague play.    

Here’s where Weiss admits to being a fan. “I like the symmetry of the new system,” he says. “You get a chance to see players – even if it’s only once a year – that you otherwise wouldn’t see.”

Does he feel the same way about more games against, say, the Philadelphia Phillies?

“The Phillies have obviously been one of the best teams in major league baseball for many years now. So that has not worked in the Red Sox favor,” says Weiss, who met his wife, Susan, a Philadelphia native, while in law school.

Ever the media guy, Weiss knows his audience.