The Big LeadThe Big Lead

An Interview With Steve Braband, Who Left ESPN to Become Head of Digital at DAZN

Steve Braband spent over a decade behind the scenes at ESPN, and recently became head of digital for DAZN in the United States and Canada. The Big Lead asked him questions that covered topics including his background, goals for the future, and TikTok.

Ryan Glasspiegel: What made you decide to leave ESPN after 12 years for DAZN?

Steve Braband: First and foremost, I never thought I’d leave ESPN. It’s an amazing place to work.

In March, I ran into Jamie Horowitz and his 10-year-old son in Los Angeles at a Lakers game (not trying to sound super Hollywood, but true story!) and we quickly made plans to meet up and catch up. My wife Ashley and I know Jamie very well – he attended our wedding! – and we had both worked with Jamie at ESPN; she worked in production for him at SportsNation and I had helped develop social strategy for a variety of shows (SportsNation, First Take, His and Hers, Olbermann) that his team produced. Jamie’s creativity and understanding of the importance of the social space has always been something that resonated with me. More importantly, I loved the team atmosphere that linked all of his shows. Jamie’s description of what he was building at DAZN reminded me of my most fun days at ESPN and I got excited immediately.

Additionally, I listened to John Skipper’s interview on Bill Simmons’ podcast. Hearing how John spoke about DAZN’s global vision, his discussion about acquiring sports rights in 9 countries, his views of what DAZN could become – all of it got me excited to make a move. Have you seen the upcoming schedule? Over the next few months, DAZN has the best schedule in boxing history. (I may or may not be mandated to end my answer with that nugget.)

RG: If someone asked you to describe what you worked on at ESPN in 90 seconds, how would you describe your work trajectory there?

SB: I worked in Programming, Marketing, Production, and Digital. I’ve produced shows for TV and Twitter, been on sidelines at the College Football National Championship, and, most importantly, made silly memes for the internet.  

I’ve had the most diverse and educational career path one could have in Bristol, CT. Back in 2009, I was a part of a four person team that answered the question “should we have a Facebook page?” From that point forward, I had the incredible opportunity to lead multiple teams that helped steer ESPN’s social approach for the next decade. 

Most importantly, I have been so lucky to work with amazing leaders and friends like Connor Schell, Kevin Wildes, Dave Jacoby, Mike Bucklin, Whit Albohm, Gabe Goodwin, my wife Ashley, Ryan Spoon, Glenn Jacobs, and many many others. I’ve learned an insane amount over the years and will forever be grateful to ESPN. 

RG: What were the biggest social triumphs that you oversaw?

SB: Triumph – Can I pick two? I will remember both my first project and one of my last ones. Launching SportsNation and working with Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle to make a show that really was “of the internet” was an indelible part of my career. We created a “voice” for that show in social that took some early risks that paved the way for what we now do in social.

Then, at the end of my time at ESPN, I helped do the reverse when we launched SportsCenter on Snapchat. We took an iconic tv brand and moved it to a new platform. When we launched SC on Snap two years ago in November, I had never been more excited about a project. The team and on-air talent behind those shows – people like Elle Duncan, Katie Nolan, and Tim Dwyer -- are some of the most creative people I’ve worked with at ESPN.

RG: From the outside, the Pat McAfee Show is going great so far on social. What can be done to make it even better?

SB: What Pat and his team have built is amazing. I’m looking forward to getting to know them, and selfishly, learning from them. If you look at the responses he gets on social and the level of engagement on all his posts, I’m reasonably certain he knows the space better than I do! Have you listened to Pat tell a story from his playing days? It’s the best. I absolutely loved his Troy Polamalu story. The internet loves authentic personalities. There are very few people in sports that are as authentic and self-aware as Pat.

RG: TikTok still feels like the Wild West, but it also feels like it's the next big frontier in social. How can DAZN optimally leverage that platform?

SB: TikTok blows my mind. It is the perfect example of this unexpected, chaotic, profession of digital/social media. You can never be an “expert” because the landscape is always evolving. Snap before this, Instagram before that. There are a lot of fun young fighters at DAZN (like Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney) who will be able to do some cool stuff on TikTok as the platform is mainly “personality” based right now. I am 100% scared to read my answer to this question a year from now as I will surely be exposed for my absurd analysis of TikTok.