How ESPN started
ESPN is one of the more popular channels which cable and satellite providers offer, and it is a favorite especially among those who love sports. ESPN was originally an acronym for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network. It features various entertainment, including recorded and live event telecasts and talk shows focusing on sports. It broadcasts worldwide but operates out of the United States. ESPN has many other sister channels, including ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN+, ESPN Latin America, ESPN Films, ESPNews, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, ESPN Deportes, Longhorn Network, and SEC Network. You can watch ESPN when you subscribe to one of these TWC package deals.
Initially ESPN was founded by father and son Bill and Scott Rasmussen along with Aetna insurance agent Ed Eagan. Bill had been working as a communications manager for the New England Whalers, but in the year 1978 he was fired from his position, which, coincidentally, might have been the best thing to happen to Bill who had always loved sports. Bill Rasmussen had already become acquainted with Eagan. Eagan was interested in building a business in television and this is part of what lead him to come to Bill with a new proposition. Bill was frustrated at having been fired but together Bill and Eagan talked about the possibility of a monthly cable television program which would focus on all of the sporting events in the state of Connecticut.
In the Summer of that very year the two men, along with one of Eagan’s associates named Bob Beyus, started pitching their idea and seeking to form a foundation for the sports channel they had already named ESPN. They talked to both reporters and representatives from local cable operators but were met with mostly underwhelming and unenthusiastic responses. Those who Bill, Eagan, and Beyus spoke to said that the idea was too expensive and impractical, and by the end of a conference Beyus stepped out.
Despite the road blocks and skepticism Bill and Eagan did not give up and their business was on its feet in that same year, 1978. On July 14th the network was incorporated and the fee for it was $91. The fight to establish ESPN was not yet completely over, however, as the trio needed a way to broadcast their channel. At this time fewer than 20% of homes even received cable, and satellite was a new idea that many, including the trio, were somewhat unfamiliar with. Upon inquiring they discovered that if they used satellite not only would they be able to broadcast ESPN across the country it would also be cheaper than using the land lines in Connecticut. It made it easier for them to decide to purchase a transponder for the satellite.
Of course being able to broadcast to the entire country also meant Rasmussen and Eagan would need to tweak their initial idea. Bill and Scott both agreed that, all day, for 24 hours they would play sports, have a short sports show every night, and also hire sportscasters who would travel about the nation. Together they put $30,000 forward for the transponder. The group settled in Bristol, buying land there for $18,000.
Together Bill and Scott received financial aid from J. B. Doherty and K. S. Sweet Associates but it was not on a permanent basis so they set out in search of other investors. In 1979 Getty Oil Company agreed to invest. They had another challenges at hand, too—securing legal rights to professional sports. Bill decided to get a deal with the National Collegiate Athletics Association and on March 14th a contract was made official between ESPN and NCAA.
The 1979 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament was watched by millions, and even though ESPN would not launch for six more months, the basketball tournament is often credited with helping to boost ESPN into success. After the tournament many viewers phoned in to their cable providers and asked to have the channel which showed basketball—and of course that was ESPN. In May of 1979 more success was on the table. Not only did Getty Oil Company provide a whooping $15 million, ESPN and Anheuser-Busch also came to an agreement which lead to the largest advertising contract which had ever existed in cable television history. It was valued at $1.38 million.
Slowly the Rasmussens were being overthrown by Evey, the vice president of Getty Oil Company. Without the knowledge of Bill Rasmussen Evey hired Chet Simmons to be the first president of ESPN. About 30,000 viewers watched the big launch of ESPN on September 7th, 1979. At the very same time ESPN debuted its first SportsCenter Telecast and Lee Leonard spoke out to sports fans telling them ESPN was essentially sports lover’s heaven.