New Production Executive Brings Pac-12 Enthusiasm
Despite having strong roots on the East Coast, Jonathan Leess’ allegiance to the Pac-12 Conference started early on in his adult life.
The Pac-12 Networks’ new Senior Vice President of Production Planning and Operations grew up on the East Coast and attended New York University. But after he moved in with childhood friend Warren Grafstein immediately after college, he became a West Coast sports fan.
While Leess had stayed on the East Coast, Grafstein made the trip cross country to attend USC. When they became roommates in New York after college, Pac-12 football games became appointment television.
“We’d watch every Saturday, especially if the USC Trojans were on,” Leess said. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have had any attachment to the West Coast. I’ve been following the Pac-12 ever since my buddy and roommate switched me from an East Coast fan to a West Coast fan.”
Leess now gets to channel his enthusiasm for the conference in a way that makes a profound impact on the Pac-12. Leess is responsible for the networks’ production operations for over 750 remote and 200 studio television productions, overseeing long-range planning, event budgets, logistics, vendor negotiations, staffing, as well as the full engineering, facilities, transmissions and systems departments.
Leess is an accomplished television executive whose career spans over 30 years. He served a variety of important roles for ABC Sports for 19 years, including over 10 years working alongside Pac-12 Networks President Lydia Murphy-Stephans. He also was the President and General Manager of CBS Television Stations Digital Media Group and worked for The Walt Disney Company. Leess had spent the previous four years focusing on his role as President of DoubleVision Media LLC, a media consulting firm that he founded in 2003.
“It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to add someone as talented and experienced as Jonathan Leess to your team,” Murphy-Stephans said. “Having someone as knowledgeable and successful as Jonathan on our team will instantly impact the growth of the Pac-12 Networks. We are thrilled to have him.”
Leess actually had been working for the Pac-12 Networks since January in a consulting role but now is firmly entrenched in a crucial role on staff. Leess was one of Murphy-Stephans’ co-workers at ABC Sports who encouraged her to make the move to Pac-12 Networks in 2011.
Leess actually first encountered Murphy-Stephans at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Murphy-Stephans was an Olympic speedskater at the time and Leess was part of television crew producing the Games. Two years later, Murphy-Stephans joined Leess at ABC Sports.
“I’ve always loved college sports,” Leess said. “Not only do I love college sports, I love the atmosphere and culture and people that work at the Pac-12 Networks. They are a terrific group of people.”
Leess worked heavily in college sports during his days at ABC Sports. He helped produce the network’s regional broadcasts of college football games, often times helping to coordinate eight or nine games on the same day.
That’s the same kind of work that needs to be done on Saturdays in the fall for the Pac-12 Networks.
“It’s a very comfortable area for me,” Leess said. “I really enjoy the challenges of having multi-events. It’s a challenge. Nothing is easy. Something will always go wrong. But the exciting part of it is to always build your backup plan with really solid people.”