Thirty-two years after showing up to work at ESPN for a job he was never offered, ESPN Vice President of Communications Rob Tobias is retiring from the company after an impactful career marked by creativity, a kaleidoscope of contributions to our success, and yes. . . persistence.
The year was 1983, and Rob, a Connecticut native, was a recent Emerson College graduate. After briefly selling this new thing called cable television door-to-door, he decided he’d prefer another side of the business. He had a friend working in operations at fledgling ESPN, and one night Rob tagged along with his pal. He pitched in and kept coming back. Such was the life at a network, and a medium, in its infancy that nobody paid much attention to the new guy; after all, they were all new and just trying to survive.
It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. He had arrived and he wasn’t leaving.
– Chris LaPlaca, ESPN Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications
The story could end there and you would know the essence of Rob. He went about things differently than most, but he always had his eye on the end game, and his approach invariably led to success.
Creative? How many people start their careers at their company of choice just by showing up for work? Persistent? The fake job turned into a real job in the mail room until he landed in Communications, where over time he did everything there was to do in representing the company to a wide array of constituencies.
From the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, X Games, the ESPYS and SportsCenter to ESPN’s ad sales, marketing, international and corporate photography operations – and pretty much everything in between – Rob’s innovative approach to publicizing all things ESPN helped tremendously in growing our brand over the years.
Years ago, he pitched an idea to the ESPN powers that be: What if we did a behind-the-scenes show about how SportsCenter gets made, and really show fans the chaos that live TV can be? They bit, and while SportsCenter aired on ESPN2, on ESPN fans saw what was happening throughout the Bristol, Conn. campus. It was remarkable television, and the show won an Emmy Award. There was the time he pushed for Chris Berman, an ESPN and industry icon, to get a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. It was a lengthy process, but it happened. It was his idea to stage a sportscaster “fantasy camp” for the media to celebrate the launch of ESPNEWS, and as always with his events, it was a tremendous success.
Of course, the true mark of a person lies more emphatically with relationships forged, and Rob is an all-star there as well. Quick with a quip or a helping hand, he leaves an indelible imprint on all those lucky enough to have known and worked with him. He may be leaving the building, but he is one ESPN pioneer whose impact will be felt for many years to come.