ESPN, an abbreviation for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, is an American cable television network dedicated to broadcasting and producing sports-related programming 24 hours a day. It was founded by Scott Rasmussen and his father, Bill Rasmussen, and launched on September 7, 1979 under the direction of Chet Simmons, who was the network's first President and CEO (and later became the United States Football League's first commissioner). George Bodenheimer is ESPN's current president, a position he has held since November 19, 1998; since March 3, 2003, he has been the head of ABC Sports as well, which has since been rebranded as ESPN on ABC (though ABC Sports still legally has a separate existence). 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, Connecticut; it also operates offices out of Charlotte, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Los Angeles office will open at the L.A. Live complex, in 2009. The network is available in over 100 million homes in the United States and over 150 countries and territories via ESPN International. The name of the sport company was lengthened to "ESPN Inc." in February 1985.

ESPN unofficially considers itself "The Worldwide Leader in Sports"; a slogan that appears on nearly all company media, its origin unknown.


Early years

The roots of ESPN can be traced to Bill Rasmussen, a television sports reporter for WWLP, the NBC affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts. Bill was hoping to create the first national sports network. 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 Connecticut (for example, the Hartford Whalers 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.[1]

Executives from Getty Oil provided much needed seed money and business expertise to help get ESPN started.

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.

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.

Even before ESPN began telecasts, it convinced the NCAA to grant it rights to show early round games of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship. The game broadcasts were extensive and helped college basketball gain a larger audience.[citation needed]

Professional sports arrive

ESPN (along with the USA) 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 and featured a New Jersey-based team, the Generals, owned by Donald Trump), enjoyed ephemeral success, some portion of which was a byproduct of the exposure afforded through ESPN's coverage.

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, which continues today. ESPN Sunday Night Football would last for 19 years and symbolize ESPN's rise from novelty network to American pop culture institution. In the 2006 NFL season ABC's Monday Night Football, long considered the showcase game of the NFL's week, began to be broadcast on ESPN. This was done to increase viewership of the Sunday night game and make it the "showcase" game.

In 1990, ESPN added Major League Baseball to its lineup. MLB games are still on ESPN today and are scheduled to continue through 2011. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan were named as the broadcasters, and that team also continues to this day.

ESPN at one time has broadcast each of the four major professional sports leagues in North America until deciding not to renew the deal with the National Hockey League after the 2004-2005 lockout, citing ratings for original programming was comparable to those of NHL broadcasts.[2]


The 1990s and early 2000s saw considerable growth within the company. In 1993, ESPN2 was founded, with Keith Olbermann and Suzy Kolber launching the network with SportsNite. Three years later, ESPNEWS was born, with Mike Tirico as the first anchor. (Today, Tirico is the play-by-play announcer on Monday Night Football.) In 1997, ESPN purchased Classic Sports Network and renamed it ESPN Classic. The latest ESPN network in the U.S., ESPNU, began on March 4, 2005.

ESPN International began in the early 1990s to take advantage of the growing satellite markets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In Canada, ESPN, Inc. purchased a minority share of TSN and RDS (in fact, the current corporate logo of both looks similar to that of ESPN). In 2004, ESPN finally entered the European market by launching a version of ESPN Classic, and in December 2006, it agreed to purchase North American Sports Network. SportsCenter's primary three broadcasts each day are at 1 a.m. ET (which re-airs usually until about noon ET), 6 p.m. ET, and 11 p.m. ET.

In 1994, ESPN set the standard for understanding the role of sports in America with the creation of The ESPN Sports Poll 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.[3]

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 California.[4]

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 (see below).

ESPN is currently building a full-fledged broadcast production facility in downtown Los Angeles, as a part of the L.A. Live complex across from the Staples Center. The five-story facility will house an ESPN Zone restaurant on the first two floors and two television production studios with digital control rooms on upper floors. It is scheduled to open in spring 2009. One of the studios will host late-night editions of SportsCenter.[5]


At a roast for co-workers Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic in January 2008, an intoxicated Dana Jacobson cursed the University of Notre Dame, Touchdown Jesus, and Jesus Christ. [6]. ESPN later released a statement apologizing for any offense given to the Notre Dame Football program while not specifically addressing the remarks that Jacobson made nor releasing any video or transcripts of her remarks.

Ownership history

As mentioned, William Rasmussen founded the network. 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. Nabisco and Anheuser-Busch also bought minority stakes.[7]

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, Disney 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. This legal technicality is probably the reason behind George Bodenheimer being listed as president of both ESPN and ABC Sports, and the copyright beds for some ABC sports programming still read "©xxxx American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.".

High definition telecasts

In 2004, ESPN opened its High Definition center in Bristol, Connecticut. All Bristol based studio shows, including Sportscenter, Baseball Tonight, NFL Live, NFL PrimeTime, Sunday NFL Countdown, Outside the Lines, Kia NBA Shootaround, NBA Fastbreak, College GameNight and others are broadcast in HD. Also, many of the games that ESPN televises are broadcast in HD. The first program ever broadcast in HD on ESPN was an NCAA basketball game in 2002, at the University of Dayton Arena. The first broadcast from the Digital Center was the 11 p.m. ET edition of SportsCenter with Linda Cohn and Rece Davis on June 7, 2004.


  • George Bodenheimer: President, ESPN, Inc.[8]
  • Sean Bratches: Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing[9]
  • Christine Driessen: Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer[10]
  • Edwin Durso: Executive Vice President, Administration[11]
  • Chuck Pagano: Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer[12]
  • John Skipper: Executive Vice President, Content[13]
  • Norby Williamson: Executive Vice President, Studio and Remote Production[14]
  • Russell Wolff: Executive Vice President and Managing Director, ESPN International[15]

ESPN significant programming rights




ESPN Major League Baseball

  • 1990–2013

ESPN Major League Soccer

  • 1996–2014

Major Indoor Soccer League

  • 1985–1987


  • 1982–1984
  • 2002–2016

The Arena Football League on ESPN

  • 1989–2002
  • 2007–2011

Little League World Series

WNBA on ESPN (Originally the WNBA on ESPN2)

  • 1997-2016

PGA Tour on ESPN

  • 1980(?)–2006 (Contracts with individual tournaments)

PBA Tour presented by Denny's on ESPN

  • 2000-present


  • 1979-2009


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


  • 1996–2009


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

Champ Car World Series on ESPN

  • 1992-2001
  • 2007-2011

ESPN National Hockey Night

  • 1985–1988 (National television deal, agreements with individual clubs as early as 1979)
  • 1992-2004

ESPN College Football

  • Bowl Games: 1982— (Contracts with individual bowl games)
  • ACC: 1998-2010
  • Big 10: 1979-(?)
  • Select Big 12 home games: 2007-(?)
  • Big East: 1991-2013
  • C-USA: 1995-2010
  • MAC: 2003-2007
  • Select Pac 10 Home games: 2007-?
  • SEC: (?)-2009
  • Sun Belt: (?)-2007
  • WAC: (?)-2009
  • NCAA Division I FCS (formerly Division I-AA), Division II, and Division III playoffs (selected games) and championship games.

ESPN College Basketball

Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest: 2003-2007


ESPN has had its own theme music for quite a few years, but early on it used source music.[citation needed] An early theme for its flagship SportsCenter program was "Pulstar", an energetic electronic instrumental piece by Vangelis from his 1976 album Albedo 0.39. It would play while computer animation of baseballs, footballs, soccer balls, etc., would fly out from the center of the TV screen in all directions.[citation needed]

The current theme music on SportsCenter was composed by Annie Roboff, a composer who also co-wrote Faith Hill's 1998 hit "This Kiss."[17]

ESPN in popular culture

ESPN has become a part of popular culture since its inception. The name is constantly referenced throughout the media in movies and television. While the announcers may be actual personalities, in many films where there is a sporting event, the coverage is by ESPN. People who do not even watch sports are familiar with ESPN. Often this comes in the form of a lampoon of the number of channels ESPN operates. A few examples:

  • In the Brad Paisley music video "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishing Song)", Dan Patrick is seen broadcasting a fictional bass fishing tournament on SportsCenter.
  • In the movie Zathura, Walter is watching SportsCenter on ESPN while Danny is pestering him, and the TV ends up being destroyed during the first spin of the game by a meteor.
  • In the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, ESPN's growth and addition of new channels is parodied when a major dodgeball tournament is broadcast by ESPN 8 ("The Ocho"): "If it's almost a sport, we've got it!" (There currently is no ESPN 8). This joke refers to ESPN2 originally being referred to as "The Deuce" by the network.
  • In the Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard, ESPN2 broadcasts the football game between the criminals and the guards, with popular ESPN personality Chris Berman calling the play-by-play. Also Dan Patrick, another (now former) ESPN personality, plays a cop who arrests Sandler's character, Paul Crewe.
  • In the DVD special features in the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, there is a skit that contains the "interview" of fictional anchorman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) to work at ESPN in 1979; he states that the idea of a twenty-four-hour sports network would be ludicrous. This first appeared on
  • The short-lived 1998 TV series Sports Night (by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin) was based on an ESPN-style network, with the same witty banter between anchors.
  • In Jerry Maguire, ESPN was present in the NFL Draft scene, and one of the last scenes of the movie was an Up Close interview with Rod Tidwell, Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character.
  • The film Days of Thunder features several segments of fictional ESPN reporting, along with several actual ESPN NASCAR commentators. Tom Cruise's character Cole Trickle claims to have learned much about NASCAR "by watching ESPN."
  • Many jokes have been made by comedians about fake obscure sports that are shown on ESPN. Dennis Miller mentioned watching "sumo rodeo", while George Carlin stated that ESPN showed "Australian dick wrestling". On an episode of Saturday Night Live, a skit features ESPN 2 airing a show called Scottish Soccer Hooligan Weekly, which includes a fake advertisement for "Senior Women's Beach Lacrosse".
  • In the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, starring Will Ferrell, the fictional character Ricky Bobby is interviewed by an ESPN reporter.
  • Several SportsCenter anchors are featured in the Hootie & the Blowfish video for "Only Wanna Be With You".
  • In the movie Mr. 3000, Stan Ross is frequently talked about on ESPN shows like SportsCenter, and PTI. After Stan got 2 hits, one away from 3000, ESPN went from talking bad about him, to interviewing him and apologizing. Angela Bassett's character, Maureen Simmons, is an assignment reporter for ESPN. The last game of the season is on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.
  • In the movie BASEketball, ESPN personalities Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne discuss the Denslow Cup championship on Sportscenter.
  • In the movie The Waterboy, ESPN Sportscenter shows coverage of a University of Michigan football game as they try to use their towel boy at wide receiver in response to Bobby Boucher's success. They also cover the fictional 'Bourbon Bowl' at the end of the movie. Lynn Swann is broadcaster on the field for ESPN.
  • There are at least three children named after the network.[18]

ESPN business ventures



The ESPN family of networks



ESPN Now posts around-the-clock sports news along with program scheduling information from ESPN and It is only available on digital cable networks and does not feature any program-length original material.



Network-wide Preemption

Several times ESPN programing 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 the first round of the 2003 NCAA Basketball Tournament due to CBS's coverage of the first few days of the Invasion of Iraq. The games were still produced by CBS. The only identifiers of ESPN was their bottomline graphic.


  1. ESPN: An Uncensored History, by Michael Freeman. Published in 2000
  2. "ESPN decides not to match Comcast's offer", ESPN, August 18, 2005. 
  3. The Sporting News 12/30/96
  4. "ESPN calls time out on scripted fare", Variety, vol. 407, No. 1, May 21-27, 2007, p. 22
  5. Greg Johnson, ESPN is on schedule to land in L.A. in 2009, Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2007.
  6. Roast of 'Mike and Mike' in Atlantic City runs from brilliant to terrible. Press of Atlantic City (2008-01-12). Retrieved on 2008-01-28.
  7. ESPN: Building an Empire, by Stuart Evey. Published in 2005. (Evey is a former Getty executive.)
  8. The Walt Disney Company - George W. Bodenheimer Executive Biography. The Walt Disney Company. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  9. SEAN R. H. BRATCHES Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  10. CHRISTINE F. DRIESSEN Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  11. EDWIN M. DURSO Executive Vice President, Administration. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  12. CHUCK PAGANO Executive Vice President, Technology. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  13. JOHN SKIPPER Executive Vice President, Content. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  14. NORBY WILLIAMSON Executive Vice President, Studio and Remote Production. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  15. RUSSELL WOLFF Executive Vice President and Managing Director, ESPN International. Retrieved on 2007-04-07.
  16. Little League Chronology. Little League Online. Retrieved on 2007-04-07. ESPN2 broadcasts started in 1997.
  17. Roboff, Annie. Official Annie Roboff Home Page. Archived from the original on 2001-11-20. Retrieved on 2007-06-19.
  18. "Texas toddler at least third named ESPN", ESPN, 2006-06-16. 

See also

External links

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