Personal Profile: Mickey Charles

Who: Mickey Charles
What: Founder, president and CEO, The Sports Network

To tell the full story of Mickey Charles would take pages, volumes probably. The limitless space of the Internet might be insufficient … especially if you look to quote him much.

Charles is a talker, and that quality has served him well in his professional life, even if he didn’t stick with the profession his father suggested.

“You’ve got a big mouth,” the elder Mr. Charles told a college-age son. “Become a lawyer.”

So Charles did get his law degree, finishing it at age 22. His first job, however, was as a stockbroker in what he says was a “very hot market” in 1960. Although it was “easy money,” the markets were never destined to be a permanent occupation. The law work didn’t suffice either. As a divorce lawyer, he tended to hurt his own business.

“I would make them stay together, and they would not pay me,” Charles tells “Today, I would try to be Alan Dershowitz, ‘Just get it ready for me and I’ll take it into court.’”

This kid from The Bronx, though, who hailed from the same neighborhood as actors Tony Curtis (born Bernie Schwartz), Vic Morrow (”Blackboard Jungle”) and Burt Lancaster (who shares a birthday with Charles), was going to be a star. He even got his shot when someone saw him speak on the East Coast, noted he was going to be addressing a conference in San Francisco a few months later and suggested that he give standup comedy a try.

The recommendation went to The Hungry i in San Francisco, a home for comics in the 1960s. That club’s owner, Enrico Banducci, gave Charles an audition in front of himself and comedian Mort Sahl, and some rather simple instructions: “We heard you’re very funny. Make us laugh.”

“I was sweating like you would not believe,” Charles recalls. It didn’t help that all the jokes he had written in preparation were kindly deemed “not funny” by his wife, Roz.

As she had warned, Charles got off to a rough start with his prepared lines and didn’t turn things around until he left that track and began picking apart Banducci, Sahl and the German shepherd they had brought with them, working completely off the cuff. The act improved so much from that point, that Banducci told Charles he could be the white Bill Cosby and offered him a 12-week stint opening for singer Vikki Carr. Charles quickly got another offer that he couldn’t refuse, though.

“Twelve weeks with Vikki Carr or the rest of your life with me,” his wife said. Charles has never had a single regret about his decision: “We just celebrated our 48th anniversary and I have had my ‘fifteen minutes’ about 120 times so far and am still going strong.”

Although the comedy gig didn’t actually lead to stardom, it did serve to outline the factors that would shape much of Charles’ career: a gift for speaking in front of large groups and entertaining them, and a focus on his family.

It was his entertainment chops — along with his connections as a college professor at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia and a sports odds columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer — that helped him land a seven-hour weekend radio show — four hours on Saturday evenings, three on Sunday nights — on the Philly CBS affiliate. The show quickly grew in popularity and was sponsored by Caesar’s Palace in Atlantic City after one appearance on the show by then-president and COO, J. Terrence (Terry) Lanni, who moved it from the CBS studios in Philadelphia to Atlantic City and turned it into a variety show.

After two years on the radio, the whole operation was moved to Las Vegas and onto television (ESPN). Although he enjoyed the work, Charles says that hosting the TV show was enormously time-consuming and taxing on his family, particularly the weekly commutes from Philadelphia for tapings. After a little less than a year on television, he had to leave it.

“You have to walk away from the ego. The hardest part was walking away from that,” Charles says, adding that it took him “about five minutes” to get over it. “A good wife can overcome that in a heartbeat, and I’ve got one of the best.”

It was after that point when Charles and his wife started the entity for which he is best known today, The Sports Network, which he has grown and continues to run today (and a business that we recently profiled on The company began as a call-in service for phone companies such as AT&T and Bell of Pennsylvania that would provide scores and game information in 60-second segments and has grown into a global provider of expansive sports statistics and information.

Through moves to three different office buildings, however, the business that started in the Charles kitchen has never moved more than a mile away from the founder’s home. And in an era of mergers and consolidation, doing business with TSN still means doing business with Charles.

“When I give my word, you can take it to the bank and make a deposit,” he says. “Once I give you my word, it’s a done deal.”

The rise of TSN has also fed into another area that has gained Charles national and international prominence, the same role that once nearly turned him into a comedian. He is a frequent speaker at conventions and conferences, having appeared at gatherings in Japan, Europe and the Caribbean, as well as here in the States. What’s his secret to speaking success? A lesson that was reinforced back at the comedy club.

“You just go up,” he says, eschewing completely prepared presentations. “You’ve got to relate to your audience, not talk down to them. That’s why people like John Madden.”

That’s why people like Mickey Charles as well, and that includes people who sat in for the panel discussion he moderated at the July Fantasy Sports Trade Association conference in Chicago.

At one point, when Charles briefly paused his train of thought to pose a question to panelist Pete Vlastelica, founder of Yardbarker, Vlastelica replied, “I’m just enjoying listening to you.”


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