20 years later, Intersport still cashing in on Nancy Kerrigan clip

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Charlie Besser is still getting more than he bargained for from Jan. 6, 1994.

That was the day a production team for his Chicago-based sports and entertainment company, Intersport, was tagging along with figure skating gold medal hopeful Nancy Kerrigan during a practice session at Detroit's Cobo Arena to gather some extra footage for a TV special it was putting together for ABC Sports.

What it got would immediately become one of the most infamous images in Olympic history.

Intersport's cameraman was the only one rolling when Ms. Kerrigan was suddenly attacked by a man wielding a police baton, capturing the moments of the skater on the ground and receiving medical attention.

The exclusive video's value was obvious, and Mr. Besser acted swiftly.

He told the producers to embed the Intersport logo on the clip. Then he picked up the phone, triggering what would become a bidding war for the five to 10 minutes of footage.

After calling outlets like Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight to establish a fair asking price, Mr. Besser chose to give first rights to ABC News for about 60 percent of the value of other bids, since the assignment had come from ABC in the first place.

But that was only the start of what has become a continuing source of revenue for the company. It is still getting requests to license the footage 20 years later.

"When Tonya Harding gets married, we get calls. When Nancy Kerrigan gets married, we get calls. When somebody has a baby or gets divorced in that group, we get calls," said Mr. Besser, who founded Intersport in 1985. "It's kind of crazy, but it just keeps going."

Intersport has netted seven figures in revenue over the years from licensing the video clip hundreds of times on TV and the Web.

More than a dozen requests rolled in over the months leading up to the current Olympic Games in Sochi. ESPN and NBC Sports both licensed the footage for recent documentaries on the incident.

Fees vary, depending on how an outlet wants to use the video, but typically start at between $10,000 and $15,000 per use, or $250 per second, for using it over a one-year period.

DROP IN THE BUCKET

That's a relative drop in the bucket for a company whose annual revenue is north of $100 million, but Intersport has vigilantly protected the video, as social media has expanded.

"It is constant checking and supervision," said Mr. Besser, adding that Intersport has had to make some calls to unlicensed users but has never sued anybody over it. "Everybody knows who owns it now, so there are very few excuses."

Today, Intersport is known primarily for staging and selling sponsorships for sporting events like the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby, and the State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships during the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Most recently, it added the Hockey City Classic, an outdoor college hockey event that debuted at Soldier Field last year and that the company intends to bring back to Chicago in 2015.

Those large events, combined with nearly 1,500 smaller ones each year, make up about half of its business. The company also runs a sports sponsorship consulting service and a growing online entertainment news hub, CelebTV.com.

But two decades after the fact, the Kerrigan video still shows up on the Intersport ledger, and the company continues to be crafty in making sure user licenses expire short of key anniversary dates, a move to keep fresh requests coming in.

All currently active licenses, for example, expire before the 25th anniversary of the incident, when Mr. Besser says Intersport will "do the ultimate digging back into the story" through a documentary "and then put it to rest forever."

Or maybe, he says with a smile, just until the next round of requests start pouring in at the 30-year mark.


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