ESPN logo since 1985
Launched September 7, 1979[1]
Network ESPN Network
Owned by ESPN Inc.
(The Walt Disney Company-80%
Hearst Corporation-20%)
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
720p (HDTV)
Slogan The Worldwide Leader In Sports
Language English
Broadcast area Worldwide
Headquarters Bristol, Connecticut
Sister channel(s) ESPN2
ESPN Classic
Longhorn Network
Website ESPN
DirecTV 206 (SD/HD)
210 Alternate feed (SD)
210-1 Alternate feed (HD)
1206 VOD
Dish Network 140 (SD/HD)
145 147 148 Alternate feeds
Available on most cable systems Check local listings for channels
Verizon FiOS Channel 70 (SD)
Channel 570 (HD)
AT&T U-Verse Channel 602 (SD)
Channel 1602(HD)

ESPN is an American global cable television network focusing on sports-related programming including live and pre-taped event telecasts, sports talk shows, and other original programming.

Founded by Bill Rasmussen,[1] his son Scott Rasmussen and Aetna insurance agent Ed Eagan, it launched on September 7, 1979, under the direction of Chet Simmons, the network's President and CEO (and later the United States Football League's first commissioner). The Getty Oil Company provided funding to begin the new venture via executive Stuart Evey. George Bodenheimer is ESPN's current president, a position he has held since November 19, 1998. Since March 2003, Bodenheimer has also headed ABC Sports, which was operationally folded into ESPN in 2006.

ESPN's signature telecast, SportsCenter, debuted with the network and aired its 30,000th episode on February 11, 2007. ESPN broadcasts primarily from its studios in Bristol, Connecticut. The network also operates offices in Miami; New York City; Seattle, Washington; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Los Angeles. The Los Angeles office, from which the late-night edition of SportsCenter is now broadcast, opened at L.A. Live in early 2009.


Early monthsEdit

ESPN was originally conceived by Bill Rasmussen, with support from Scott Rasmussen and Don Rasmussen.[1] Bill was a television sports reporter for WWLP (channel 22), the NBC affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts.[2] 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[citation needed] (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.[3]

ESPN started with the debut of Sportscenter hosted by Lee Leonard and George Grande. Afterwards was a pro slow pitch softball game.[4] The first score on SportsCenter was from women's tennis on the final weekend of the US Open.

To help fill 24 hours a day of air time, ESPN showed college football and basketball games and a variety of sporting events that broadcast networks did not show, including Australian rules football, the Canadian Football League, Davis Cup tennis, professional wrestling, and boxing. 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 at the time. ESPN also aired business shows and exercise videos.

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

Professional sports arriveEdit

ESPN (along with the USA Network) was among the earliest cable-based broadcast partners for the National Basketball Association (NBA). Lasting from 1982 to 1984, the network's relationship with the association marked its initial foray into American professional sports. After an 18 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 coverage.

On July 15, 1985, ESPN started airing the "ESPN Sports Update" (later known as "28/58"), a condensed run-down of scores and news that aired at 28 and 58 minutes past the hour, when SportsCenter was not airing.[5] 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, formrly seen on its sister network ABC. (NBC took over the Sunday night 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."[6]

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 1996, 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."[7]

In 1990, ESPN added Major League Baseball to its lineup with a $400 million contract.[8] The contract has been renewed and will continue through 2011. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan were the longtime voices of the network's centerpiece Sunday Night Baseball through the 2010 season. Steve Phillips joined the package in 2009, but Phillips was later dismissed by the network in October 2009. In December 2010 ESPN announced that Orel Hersheiser, Dan Schulman, and Bobby Valentine will be the new announcers of "Sunday Night Baseball" beginning with the 2011 season.

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.[9] The network had aired NHL games from 1980–82, from 1986–89, and most recently from 1992–2004. 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 cost of live sports entertainment, such as the USD$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.[10]

ESPN broadcasts 65 sports, 24 hours a day in 16 languages in more than 200 countries.[11]


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 a considerable growth within the company. ESPN Radio launched on New Years Day, 1992 and has seen tremendous success.[12] 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 acquired the Classic Sports Network and renamed it ESPN Classic. ESPNU, a network focusing exclusively on collegiate sports, launched on March 4, 2005.

In 1994, ESPN launched 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.[13]

After Disney's acquisition of ESPN, ABC Sports began to increasingly integrate its operations with the network in 1996. 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, which transitioned all ABC Sports telecasts to ESPN-styled productions and branding under the banner ESPN on ABC. However, due to the nature of ESPN still being a joint venture of ESPN and Hearst, ESPN on ABC is still legally separate from ESPN since the ABC network has no ownership interest by Hearst.

In 1998, ESPN also began utilizing a "Skycam" during their NHL broadcasts, later expanding to baseball, basketball, and football games.[5] In 2007, ESPN signed an agreement with the Arena Football League to broadcast at least one game every week, usually on Monday nights. In January 2008, ESPN signed a multi-million dollar contract with professional gaming circuit, Major League Gaming (MLG).

In April 2009, ESPN opened a broadcast production facility in downtown Los Angeles as a part of the L.A. Live complex across from Staples Center. 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.[14]

In October 2009, ESPN marked its 30th anniversary with the premiere of 30 for 30, a series of documentaries focusing on major sports stories and events that occurred over the 30 years that the network had been on the air. While premiering to low ratings[15], awareness and critical reception of the series increased in later installments, leading to an increase in viewership. By the seventh episode, The U, the audience had grown to a 1.8 rating and well over 2 million viewers.[16]

International expansionEdit

In the early 1990s, ESPN established a new division, ESPN International, to take advantage of the growing satellite markets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. ESPN would also purchase a minority stake in a consortium formed to acquire the Canadian sports networks TSN and RDS from Labatt (due to Canadian regulatory laws, Labatt could not be the majority owner of the networks after its purchase by Interbrew . After Bell Media (then Bell Globemedia) acquired a majority stake in the networks in 2000, they would adopt ESPN-styled branding in 2001.

In 2004, ESPN entered the European market by launching a version of ESPN Classic, and then by acquiring the North American Sports Network (which was re-launched as ESPN America in February 2009). In August 2009, ESPN also launched a domestic channel for the United Kingdom and Ireland after acquiring domestic rights to 46 Barclays Premier League matches for the forthcoming season, and 23 matches each for the following three seasons. The deal replaced a previous contract with Setanta Sports GB, which was experiencing financial difficulties and bankruptcy.[17]


Despite its acclaim and notability, ESPN and its sister networks have been the targets of criticism for some of its programming. This criticism includes accusations of biased coverage, conflict of interest, and controversies with individual broadcasters and analysts.

High definitionEdit

ESPN launched its 720p high-definition simulcast, originally branded as ESPNHD, on March 20, 2003. All Bristol and L.A. Live 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 Angeles) are presented in a standard definition, 4:3 format with stylized pillarboxes. Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn began airing in HD on September 27, 2010.[18]

ESPN and all of ABC and Disney's cable networks use the 720p HD line standard because ABC executives proposed a progressive scan signal that resolves fluid and high speed motion in sports better, particularly during slow motion replays.[19]

In 2011, ESPNHD began to downplay its distinct logo in promotion in preparation for a shift of its standard definition feed to letterboxed widescreen, which occurred on June 1, 2011.


On January 5, 2010, ESPN announced that it would launch a new 3D television channel, ESPN 3D. The network launched on June 11, 2010, with coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. During its first year, ESPN projected that it would air around 100 events in 3D within its first year, including the Summer X Games and the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.[20][21]

Originally, ESPN 3D only aired simulcasts of 3D events from other ESPN channels, but on February 14, 2011, the network switched to a 24 hour format with repeat airings of past 3D events.[22]


File:SportsCenter studios.jpg

Alongside its live sports broadcasts, ESPN also airs a variety of sports highlight, talk, and documentary styled shows. These include:


  • George Bodenheimer: President, ESPN, Inc.[23]
  • Sean Bratches: Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing[24]
  • Christine Driessen: Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer[25]
  • Ed Durso: Executive Vice President, Administration[26]
  • Charles Pagano: Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer[27]
  • John Skipper: Executive Vice President, Content[28]
  • Norby Williamson: Executive Vice President, Studio and Remote Production[29]
  • Russell Wolff: Executive Vice President and Managing Director, ESPN International[30]

In popular cultureEdit

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,"[31] a reference to a nickname formerly used for ESPN2, "the Deuce"; the slogan for the network was "If it's almost a sport, you'll find it here!"). In the film The 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 joke 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 (The Fishin' Song)) and Hootie and the Blowfish (Only Wanna Be With You); and the 1998 TV series Sports Night was based on an ESPN-style network and its titular, SportsCenter-analogue flagship sports results program. Also, Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell's character from the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, is fictitiously interviewed for a position on SportsCenter and fails miserably, then claims that the idea (of a 24 hour sports network) will never become popular, and will be a financial and cultural disaster (claiming it's as ridiculous as a 24-hour cooking network or an all music channel). This was originally shot as a SportsCenter piece celebrating ESPN's 25th anniversary, and was subsequently included as an extra on the Anchorman DVD.

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." 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." SNL also parodies ESPN Classic with fake archived obscure women's sportscasts from the 1980s such as bowling, weight lifting and curling, with announcers who know nothing about the sport, and instead focus on the sponsors which are always women's hygiene products. In the early years of ESPN, Late Night with David Letterman even featured a "Top Ten List" poking fun at some of the obscure sports seen on ESPN at the time. One of the more memorable sports on the list was "Amish Rake Fighting." A recurring skit on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon named Sports Freak-Out! is a parody of SportsCenter.

A common joke in comedic television and film involves people getting ESP (an abbreviation for Extrasensory Perception, and an irony considering ESPN was initially supposed to be named "ESP") confused with ESPN, often including someone saying something along the lines of "I know these kind of things, I've got ESPN". Electronic Arts in the early 1990s used to have a faux sports network logo on their sports games called EASN (Electronic Arts Sports Network), but soon changed to EA Sports after ESPN requested that they stop using it. There are at least 22 children named after the network.[32][33][34]

Network slogansEdit

  • The Total Sports Network (1979–1985)
  • The Number One Sports Network (1985–1991)
  • All Sports, All the Time (1991–1994)
  • America's No.1 Sports Network (1994–1998)
  • The Worldwide Leader in Sports (1998– )


See also Edit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "About Bill Rasmussen". ESPN Founder. ESPN. Retrieved July 5, 2011.
  2. Rasmussen, Bill (May 12, 2010). Sports Junkies Rejoice: The Birth of ESPN. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1451569575.
  3. Freeman, Mike (December 11, 2011). ESPN: The Uncensored History. Taylor Trade Publishing. ISBN 978-0878332700.
  4. Hawkins, Ronald (September 1, 1989). "ESPN at ten: a look back at one of the networks that changed the face of television sports". Retrieved July 15, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 ESPN's 30th Anniversary – 30 ESPN Firsts & Innovations ESPN MediaZone.[dead link]
  6. ESPN: The Uncensored History.
  7. Santoli, M.. (2008, February). The Magics Back. Barrons, 88(8), 27–29,31. Retrieved February 16, 2011, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1435830791).
  8. ESPN, Encyclopedia Britannica,
  9. Rovell, Darren (August 18, 2005). "ESPN decides not to match Comcast's offer". Retrieved July 15, 2011.
  10. "ESPN calls time out on scripted fare", Variety, vol. 407, No. 1, May 21–27, 2007, p. 22.
  11. ESPN Inc Encyclopedia Britannica.
  12. ESPN's 30th Anniversary – Milestones ESPN MediaZone.
  13. , The Sporting News, December 30, 1996.
  14. Greg Johnson, ESPN is on schedule to land in L.A. in 2009, Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2007.
  15. Best, Neil (October 9, 2009). "Watchdog – Giants' TV ratings jump is third best in NFL to this point". Newsday. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
  16. Jackson, Barry (March 19, 2010). ""The U" sequel on UM rebirth". The Miami Herald. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
  17. ESPN snaps up Premier League TV packages,, June 22, 2009.
  18. ESPN Yakkers Go HD Next Week September 20, 2010.
  19. "The HD Experience" (PDF). ESPN. Archived from the original on March 9, 2008. Retrieved July 5, 2011.
  20. Gibbons, Kent (May 25, 2010). 3DTV 2010 "Event: Bratches Bullish on ESPN 3D Uptake". 3DTV 2010. Retrieved July 15, 2011.
  21. ESPN 3D to show soccer, football, more ESPN, January 5, 2010.
  22. Lynch, Colleen (January 5, 2011). "ESPN 3D Expands Programming Line Up – Will Air 3D Content All Day, Everyday". Retrieved July 15, 2011.
  23. "The Walt Disney Company – George W. Bodenheimer Executive Biography". The Walt Disney Company. Retrieved April 7, 2007.
  24. "SEAN R. H. BRATCHES Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing". ESPN. Retrieved April 7, 2007.
  25. "CHRISTINE F. DRIESSEN Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer". ESPN. Retrieved April 7, 2007.
  26. "EDWIN M. DURSO Executive Vice President, Administration". ESPN. Retrieved April 7, 2007.
  27. "CHUCK PAGANO Executive Vice President, Technology". ESPN. Retrieved April 7, 2007.
  28. "JOHN SKIPPER Executive Vice President, Content". ESPN. Retrieved April 7, 2007.
  29. "NORBY WILLIAMSON Executive Vice President, Studio and Remote Production". ESPN. Retrieved April 7, 2007.
  30. "RUSSELL WOLFF Executive Vice President and Managing Director, ESPN International". ESPN. Retrieved April 7, 2007.
  31. "Movie Preview: Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story". Entertainment Weekly. April 21, 2004.,,613698,00.html. Retrieved July 30, 2008.
  32. Parents name baby after ESPN, Joe Montana, NBC Sports, October 9, 2006.
  33. "Texas toddler at least third named ESPN". ESPN. June 16, 2006.
  34. Hiestand, Michael (February 7, 2006). "Lampley nearing most-called Olympics". USA Today. Retrieved June 9, 2008. "ESPN says it's heard of at least 22 babies named ESPN"


  • Miller, James Andrew; Tom Shales (2011). Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9780316043007.

External linksEdit

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