Alumna Launches the Pac-12 Network
By Robert Schroeder
From the NLU Alumni Magazine
National Louis University’s athletics programs ended in the early 1990s. But at exactly 6pm Pacific time on August 15, 2012, the collegiate sports spotlight was back on one NLU alumna.
That evening, Lydia Murphy-Stephans watched from a control room in San Francisco as the television behemoth she had built, the Pac -12 Network, flickered to life. Murphy-Stephans, a 1982 graduate of NLU with a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education, is the executive vice president and general manager of a media company comprising one national and six regional networks designed to provide round-the-clock coverage of athletics programs in the Division I Pacific-12 Conference.
“It brings everything together: my interest in education, my interest in sports both as a fan and an athlete, and my interest and love of television,” Murphy-Stephans said. “I knew this would redefine collegiate sports, and the titans in the media industry would be watching us very closely.”
Her brainchild follows in the footsteps of the Big Ten Network and the Longhorn Network, which covers University of Texas athletics. The Pac-12 Network features regional affiliates in Arizona, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Colorado and Utah, Washington state, and Oregon, along with the national network. The organization represents a powerful tool to penetrate the second-largest media market in the nation, Los Angeles, and provides a launching pad of branding, student recruitment and community-building for the member schools of the Pac-12.
Though trained as an educator, Murphy-Stephans never formally taught past her student-teaching. Immediately after college, the Northbrook, IL, native began training for a new pursuit: speed skating. She qualified for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team and placed 13th in the 1000-meter race at the Sarajevo Games. Her Olympic experience led to a job with ABC Sports’ Olympics coverage unit, and she rose to become the first female vice president at ABC Sports in 1993. In 1999, she led the launch of the Oxygen sports channel before becoming an executive vice president with the MSG Network in 2006.
“I enjoy the creative side of the business; I love to write and appreciate storytelling,” Murphy-Stephans said. “It’s the variety of being able to apply my creative interests, my curiosity and business acumen into one type of career.”
Nineteen Emmy awards later, Murphy-Stephans moved on to launch her own media strategy company. When the opportunity arose to join the Pac-12 Network in December 2011, the educator inside her leapt at the opportunity.
“I naturally am a very curious person, and I believe that learning philosophically is nonstop,” Murphy- Stephans said. “I enjoy the environment where people can exchange ideas and an environment that fosters education. This allows me to work in an environment that is highly innovative and ties me back to education.”
Practically every facet of the network features Murphy-Stephans’ fingerprints. She planned the network’s facility in San Francisco, selected equipment, built a staff model, designed the day-to-day workflow, hired on-air talent, and designed the programming and production schedule. That schedule is both ambitious and innovative. The network will broadcast 850 live sporting events annually, with hundreds of studio shows and post-produced shows filling out the schedule. While the network will showcase popular collegiate sports such as football and men’s basketball, Murphy Stephans is leading programming to provide equal exposure for women’s athletics, as well as increased screen time for nonrevenue sports that typically receive little promotion.
Revenue, however, is the bottom line for the network itself: the member schools of the PAC-12 know the success of the network means financial success for each university. That reality brings power, prestige and more than a little pressure. Murphy-Stephans told the Pac -12 Network blog she “wanted to vomit” when the network’s first program delayed hitting the airwaves for a tantalizing few seconds.
“By the end of the [first] night I was invigorated and downright relieved,” she said. “The day of the launch was big because it was a milestone, but for my staff, that was only the beginning. [They are] inheriting a workload that puts us in a position of being one of the largest production companies in the country.”
There will not be any national championships coming to NLU anytime soon, but the story told of the next national title for a Pac-12 school will have an NLU imprint.
Access the full Fall 2012 NLU Alumni Magazine.