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ESPN (originally an abbreviation for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) is an Americanmarker cable television network dedicated to broadcasting and producing sports-related programming 24 hours a day.

Founded by Scott Rasmussen and his father Bill it launched on September 7, 1979 under the direction of Chet Simmons, the network's first President and CEO (and later the United States Football League's first commissioner). Getty Oil Company provided the funding to begin the new venture. George Bodenheimer is ESPN's current president, a position he has held since November 19, 1998; since March 3, 2003, he has also headed ABC Sports, a separate legal entity now branded as ESPN on ABC.

ESPN's signature telecast, SportsCenter, debuted with the network and aired its 30,000th episode on February 11, 2007. ESPN broadcasts primarily out of its studios in Bristol, Connecticutmarker; it also operates offices out of New York Citymarker; Seattlemarker, WA; Charlottemarker, NC and Los Angelesmarker. The Los Angeles office, from which the late-night edition of SportsCenter is now broadcast, opened at L.A.marker Livemarker in early 2009. The name of the sport company was lengthened to "ESPN Inc." in February 1985.

ESPN markets itself as "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," a slogan that appears on nearly all company media but whose origin is unknown.

Most programming on ESPN and its affiliated networks consists of live or tape-delayed sets of events and sports-related news programming (such as SportsCenter). The remainder includes sports-related talk shows (such as Around the Horn, Jim Rome is Burning, Outside the Lines, and PTI) and sports-related documentaries and films.


Early months

ESPN was originally conceived by Bill Rasmussen, a television sports reporter for WWLPmarker, the NBC affiliate in Springfield, Massachusettsmarker. In the mid-1970s, Rasmussen worked for the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers, selling commercial time for their broadcasts. His son Scott, a former high school goaltender, was the team's public-address announcer. Both were fired in 1977 and Rasmussen sought a new business venture. His original idea was a cable television network (then a fairly new medium) that focused on covering sports events in the state of Connecticutmarker (for example, the Hartford Whalers, Bristol Red Sox, and the Connecticut Huskies). When Rasmussen was told that buying a continuous 24-hour satellite feed was less expensive than buying several blocks of only a few hours a night, he expanded to a 24-hour nationwide network. The channel's original name was ESP, for Entertainment and Sports Programming, but it was changed prior to launch.

ESPN started with the debut of SportsCenter hosted by Lee Leonard and George Grande on September 7, 1979. Afterwards was a pro slow pitch softball game. The first score on SportsCenter was from women's tennis on the final weekend of the US Openmarker.

To help fill 24 hours a day of air time, ESPN aired a wide variety of sports events that broadcast networks did not show on weekends, including Australian rules football, Davis Cup tennis, professional wrestling, boxing, and additional college football and basketball games. The U.S. Olympic Festival, the now-defunct competition that was organized as a training tool by the United States Olympic Committee, was also an ESPN staple during this time. ESPN also aired business shows and exercise videos.

ESPN recruited Steve Powell, formerly Head of Sports Programming at HBO, to be its first head chief of Programming. Powell had been the youngest VP at HBO and its parent company (Time, Inc.), but left to attend Harvard Business School and worked for ESPN while completing the MBA Program.

Professional sports arrive

ESPN (along with the USA Network) was among the earliest cable-based broadcast partners for the National Basketball Association (NBA). Lasting from 1982–84, the network's relationship with the association marked its initial foray into the American professional sports sector. After an eighteen-year hiatus, ESPN (by then, under the auspices of the ABC network), secured a $2.4 billion/six-year broadcast contract with the NBA, thereby revitalizing its historic compact with U.S. professional basketball.

In 1983, The United States Football League (USFL) made its debut on ESPN and ABC. The league (which lasted for three seasons) enjoyed ephemeral success, some portion of which was a byproduct of the exposure afforded through ESPN's coverage.

On July 26, 1985, ESPN started airing the ESPN Sports Update (later known as 28/58), which was a condensed run-down of scores and news that aired at :28 and :58 portions of the hour, when SportsCenter was not airing. This was changed to 18/58 on May 30, 2005.

In 1987, ESPN gained partial rights to the National Football League. The league agreed to the deal as long as ESPN agreed to simulcast the games on local television stations in the participating markets. ESPN Sunday Night Football would last for 19 years and spur ESPN's rise to legitimacy. In the 2006 NFL season, ESPN began airing Monday Night Football, formerly seen on its sister network ABC. (NBC took over the Sunday night game, which replaced the Monday night contest as the league's weekly centerpiece game.) Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue credits ESPN for revolutionizing the NFL, "ESPN was able to take the draft, the pregame and highlight shows, and other NFL programming to a new level."

In 1990, ESPN added Major League Baseball to its lineup with a $400 million contract; the contract has been renewed and will continue through at least 2011. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan are the longtime voices of the network's centerpiece Sunday Night Baseball. Steve Phillips joined the package in 2009, but Phillips was later dismissed by the network in October 2009.

ESPN broadcast each of the four major professional sports leagues in North America from 2002 until 2004, when it cut ties with the National Hockey League; the network had aired NHL games from 1983-86 and again since 1993. ESPN has been broadcasting Major League Soccer games about once a week on ESPN2 since that league's inception in 1996. In most years, the annual All-Star Game and MLS Cup championship game, and in some years the Opening Night game, are shown on ABC broadcast stations.

With the increasing costs of live sports entertainment, such as the U.S.$8.8 billion costs for NFL football broadcasts rights for eight years, "scripted entertainment has become a luxury item for ESPN," said David Carter, director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern Californiamarker.

ESPN broadcasts 65 sports, 24 hours a day in 15 languages in more than 150 countries.


ESPN set itself apart from its competition by using the top reporters for each of their respective sports by the early 1990s. Some examples included: Peter Gammons (baseball), Chris Mortensen (football), Al Morganti (hockey), David Aldridge (basketball), and Mel Kiper, Jr. (NFL Draft). Other well-known reporters include Andrea Kremer, Ed Werder, Mark Schwartz, and Greg Garber.

The 1990s and early 2000s saw considerable growth within the company. ESPN Radio launched on New Years Day, 1992. ESPN2 was founded in 1993, launched by Keith Olbermann and Suzy Kolber with SportsNite. Three years later ESPNews was born, with Mike Tirico as the first anchor. In 1997, ESPN purchased Classic Sports Network and renamed it ESPN Classic. The youngest ESPN network in the U.S., ESPNU, began broadcasting on March 4, 2005.

ESPN International was started in the early 1990s to take advantage of the growing satellite markets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In Canadamarker, ESPN, Inc. purchased a minority share of TSN and RDS (the corporate logos of both networks were redesigned to match the look of ESPN's logo). In 2004, ESPN entered the European market by launching a version of ESPN Classic. Then in December 2006 it agreed to purchase North American Sports Network, and on February 1, 2009 NASN was re-branded as ESPN America. SportsCenter's primary three broadcasts on ESPN America each day are at 1am ET (which re-airs usually until 9am ET), 6pm ET, and 11pm ET.

In 1994, ESPN launched the The ESPN Sports Poll, created by Dr. Richard Luker. The Sports Poll was the first ongoing national daily study of sports fan activities and interests in the United States. Sporting News acknowledged the accomplishments of The ESPN Sports Poll and Dr. Luker in 1996.

From 1996 onward ESPN was closely integrated with ABC Sports. That year Steve Bornstein, president of ESPN since 1990, was made president of ABC Sports as well. This integration culminated in the 2006 decision to merge ABC Sports' operations with ESPN. As a result, all of ABC's sports programming now uses ESPN on ABC. However, ABC Sports is still legally separate from ESPN due to ESPN's joint ownership arrangement with Disney and Hearst.

In 1998, ESPN began using "Skycam" for their broadcasts of the NHL. The system was later put to use in baseball, basketball, and football games.

In April 2009, ESPN opened a broadcast production facility in downtown Los Angelesmarker as a part of the L.A.marker Livemarker complex across from Staples Centermarker. The five-story facility houses an ESPN Zone restaurant on the first two floors and two television production studios with digital control rooms on the upper floors. One of the studios hosts late-night editions of SportsCenter.

In 2007, ESPN signed an agreement with the Arena Football League to broadcast at least one game every weekend, usually on Monday nights.

In January 2008, ESPN signed a multi-million dollar contract with professional gaming circuit, Major League Gaming .

On 3 August 2009, ESPN began broadcasting in the United Kingdommarker and Irelandmarker for the first time, having been awarded the domestic rights to 46 Barclays English Premier League matches for the forthcoming season, and 23 matches each for the following three seasons, due to the cancellation of the Premier League's contract with Setanta Sports over a missed payment. The deal only affected television rights within the U.K.; international rights (held in the U.S. by Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports North America) were not affected. Also in the US, ESPN now has rights to at least one Premier League and one La Liga game a week.


Ownership history

As mentioned, William Rasmussen founded the channel. Just before ESPN launched, Getty Oil Company (later purchased by Texaco, which in turn was acquired by Chevron) agreed to buy a majority stake in the network.

In 1984, ABC made a deal with Getty Oil to acquire ESPN. ABC retained an 80% share, and sold 20% to Nabisco. The Nabisco shares were later sold to Hearst Corporation, which still holds a 20% stake today. In 1986, ABC was purchased for $3.5 billion by Capital Cities Communications. In 1995, The Walt Disney Company purchased Capital Cities/ABC for $19 billion and picked up an 80% stake in ESPN at that time. According to an analysis published by Barron's magazine in February 2008, ESPN "is probably worth more than 40% of Disney's entire value... based on prevailing cash-flow multiples in the industry."

Although ESPN has been operated as a Disney subsidiary since 1996, it is still technically a joint venture between Disney and Hearst.ESPN will take a relation with Disney's new channel, Disney XD, which is replacing Toon Disney.


Logo of ESPNHD
ESPNHD, launched March 30, 2003, is a 720p high-definition simulcast of ESPN. ESPNHD (along with sister networks ESPN2 HD, ESPNU HD, ABC HD, Disney Channel HD, ABC Family HD, and Disney XD HD) uses the 720p HD line standard because the ABC executives proposed a progressive 'p' signal resolves fluid and high speed motion in sports better, particularly during slow motion replays.

All Bristol and LA Livemarker studio shows, along with most live events on ESPN, are produced in high definition. ESPN is one of the few networks with an all-digital infrastructure. Shows that are recorded elsewhere − such as Jim Rome Is Burning (Los Angelesmarker); Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn (Washington, D.C.marker) are presented in a standard definition, 4:3 format with stylized pillarboxes. ESPN, however, maintains a policy that any video that originates in high definition must remain in HD when aired on ESPNHD.

More recently, the network has come under considerable scrutiny from industry technicians and early adopters of HD due to a perceived degradation in picture quality, specifically during live events.

In Latin America, the 720p high-definition version of ESPN was launched as "ESPN HD" on December 1, 2009.


  • Tucker Wrenn Creator
  • George Bodenheimer: President, ESPN, Inc.
  • Sean Bratches: Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing
  • Christine Driessen: Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
  • Sean Fleming: Executive Vice President, Administration
  • Clark West: Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
  • Reno Mahe: Executive Vice President, Content
  • Norby Williamson: Executive Vice President, Studio and Remote Production
  • Russell Wolff: Executive Vice President and Managing Director, ESPN International

Advertising on ESPN

Advertising on ESPN is sold out for months in advance. Major advertisers such as Apple Inc.marker, FedEx, and United Parcel Servicemarker are continually buying advertisements to reach the 15-35 year old male audience. ESPN's ad revenue averages $441.8 million with an ad rate of $9,446 per 30 second slot.

ESPN significant programming rights

ESPN and its family of networks (ESPN on ABC, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Plus and to a lesser extent ESPN Classic) have rights to the following sports and events (note: this list doesn't represent ESPN America since that division of ESPN broadcasts out side of the USA):

  • 1987–1989 (Sunday Night; exclusive cable; second half of season only)
  • 1990–1997 (Sunday Night; second half of season only; TNT carried first half)
  • 1998–2005 (Sunday Night; exclusive cable; entire season, selected Thursday & Saturday night games)
  • 1988–1994, 2003–2005, 2010 (Pro Bowl, acquired rights from ABC)
  • 2006–2013 (Monday Night Football)

ESPN College Football
  • Bowl Games: 1982–present (contracts with individual bowl games; the first live college football game telecast on ESPN was the 1982 Independence Bowl, Kansas St. vs. Wisconsin)
  • Bowl Championship Series: January 2011–2014
  • ACC: 1998–2010
  • Big Ten Conference: 1979–2013 (originally tape delayed)
  • Select Big 12 home games: 2007– (Games are purchased from Fox Sports Net on a game-by-game basis)
  • Big East: 1991–2013
  • C-USA: 1995–2010
  • MAC: 2003–2010
  • Select Pac 10 Home games: 2007– (Part of the contract with ABC)
  • SEC: 1984-until at least 2023
  • Sun Belt: (?)–2007
  • WAC: until at least 2017
  • NCAA Division I FCS (formerly Division I-AA), Division II, and Division III playoffs (selected games) and championship games.

ESPN Major League Soccer
  • 1996–2014


ESPN Major League Baseball
  • 1990–2013

Little League World Series
  • 1985–2014

  • 1982–1984
  • 2002–2016

WNBA on ESPN (Originally "The WNBA on ESPN2")
  • 2002–2016

ESPN College Basketball
  • NCAA Tournament: 1980–1990 (Contract with NCAA)
  • ACC (some telecasts, including games in the conference tournament, are blacked out in ACC markets):
  • Big Ten Conference: 1979–2017
  • Big 12: 2008–2016, ESPN Plus (ESPN Plus has exclusive rights to some games in Big 12 markets to protect stations purchasing its syndicated package)
  • Big East: 1979–2013, ESPN Plus

Tennis Grand Slams: As of 2009 ESPN co-owns the cable rights to all four of tennis' grand slams with The Tennis Channel. ESPN also televises other tennis events.

Golf on ESPN
  • 1980(?)–2006 (Contracts with individual PGA tournaments)
ESPN continues to broadcast early round coverage from The Mastersmarker, U.S. Open, and Ryder Cup. Starting in 2010, ESPN will broadcast all four rounds of the Open Championship, marking the first time that a golf major is an all-cable event.

PBA Tour
  • 2000–present

  • 1981–2000 (Contracts with individual races)
  • 2007–2014 (Contract with NASCAR)

  • 1980(?)–2000 (Contracts with individual races)
  • 2001–2013 (Contract with NHRA)

Indy Racing League
  • 1996–2008 (full season)
  • 2009- (Indianapolis 500marker and four other races, all shown on ABC)

La Liga
  • 2009-

English Premier League Soccer
  • 2009-

Australian Football League
  • 2009-2011

ESPN also broadcasts a range of horse racing. It may sometimes acquire the rights to programming in other sports which airs only on ESPN 360, usually because another broadcaster holds the TV rights.

Former Programs

  • 1979–2009
  • Selected majors through deals with their respective sanctioning bodies

Champ Car World Series on ESPN
  • 1992-2001
  • 2007 (series merged with IRL, beginning with the 2008 season)

ESPN National Hockey Night
  • 1985–1988 (National television deal, agreements with individual clubs as early as 1979)
  • 1992–2004
Major Indoor Soccer League
  • 1985–1987
  • 2005–2006 (championship games only)

UEFA Champions League
  • 1995-2009

The Arena Football League on ESPN
  • 1989–2002
  • 2007–2011 (the league has suspended operations since the 2009 season)

ESPN in popular culture

ESPN has become a part of popular culture since its inception. Many movies with a general sports theme will include ESPN announcers and programming into their storylines (such as in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, which gently lampoons the channel's multiple outlets by referencing the as-yet-nonexistent ESPN8, "The Ocho," a reference to a nickname sometimes used for ESPN2, "the Deuce"). In the film "Waterboy," Adam Sandler's character Bobby Boucher has his college football accomplishments tracked through several fictional "SportsCenter" newscasts including the "Bourbon Bowl." Also, Page 2 columnist Bill Simmons often jokes that he is looking forward to running a future network; SportsCenter anchors appeared as themselves in music videos by Brad Paisley ("I'm Gonna Miss Her ") and Hootie and the Blowfish ("Only Wanna Be With You"); and the short-lived 1998 TV series Sports Night (by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin) was based around an ESPN-style network and its titular, SportsCenter-analogue flagship sports results program.

Many jokes have been made by comedians about fake obscure sports that are shown on ESPN before the network was able to land major sports programming packages. Dennis Miller mentioned watching "sumo rodeo," while George Carlin stated that ESPN showed "Australian dick wrestling." One of several Saturday Night Live sketches poking fun at the network features ESPN2 airing a show called Scottish Soccer Hooligan Weekly, which includes a fake advertisement for "Senior Women's Beach Lacrosse." In the early years of ESPN, "The Late Show with David Letterman" even featured a "Top Ten List" poking fun at some the obscure sports seen on ESPN at the time. One of the more memorable sports on the list was "Amish Rake Fighting."

There are at least 22 children named after the network.

ESPN business ventures


The ESPN family of networks



ESPN Now was a former rolling digital cable barker channel which aired from 2001-2004 and featured a scoring ticker, along with ESPN and promotional advertising. It mainly was used to promote ESPN's college sports pay per view packages to viewers. The channel was eventually discontinued with the rise of video on demand.



Network-wide preemption

Several times ESPN programming has been drastically altered because of coverage of world events.

Both ESPN and ESPN2 carried ABC News coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The only original program produced after the preemption was a shortened 6pm edition of SportsCenter which focused on covering the cancellations of sporting events in reaction to the terror attacks.

ESPN carried most of the first round of the 2003 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament due to CBS's coverage of the Invasion of Iraq. The games were still produced by CBS and distributed to the correct markets through cable companies. The only identifiers of ESPN was the bottomline graphic which ran throughout the entire telecast.

See also


  1. ESPN: An Uncensored History, by Michael Freeman. Published in 2000
  3. ESPN: The Uncensored History
  4. ESPN, Encyclopedia Britannica,
  5. "ESPN calls time out on scripted fare", Variety, vol. 407, No. 1, May 21-27, 2007, p. 22
  6. ESPN, Encyclopedia Britannica,
  9. Greg Johnson, ESPN is on schedule to land in L.A. in 2009, Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2007.
  10. ESPN snaps up Premier League TV packages,, 22 June 2009
  11. chosen_direction_covers.qxd
  12. What's Up With ESPN HD?
  14. ESPN, Encyclopedia Britannica,
  15. ESPN2 broadcasts started in 1997.
  16. NBC Sports,, retrieved 4-8-2008

External links

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