ESPN, originally an acronym 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). 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 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 New York City, New York; Seattle, Washington; Charlotte, North Carolina and Los Angeles, California; the Los Angeles office is scheduled to open at L.A. Live in 2009. The name of the sport company was lengthened to "ESPN Inc." in February 1985.
ESPN considers itself "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 is composed of live or tape-delayed sporting events and sports-related news programming (such as 'SportsCenter') with the remainder filled by sports-related talk shows (such as 'Around the Horn', 'Jim Rome is Burning','Outside The Lines', and 'PTI') and sports-related documentaries.
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.
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.
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 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 with a $400 million contract. 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 were comparable to those of NHL broadcasts.
ESPN broadcasts 65 sports, 24 hours a day in 14 languages in more than 150 countries.
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 9 AM 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.
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.
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.
In 2007, ESPN signed an agreement with the Arena Football League to broadcast at least one game every weekend, usually on Monday nights.
As of January 15, 2008, ESPN has signed a multi-million dollar contract with professional gaming circuit Major League Gaming or MLG for short. Although some have argued that professional gaming is not a physical sport, ESPN has gone ahead with this collaboration.
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.
All Bristol studio shows and most live events on ESPN are produced 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); Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn (Washington, D.C.) are presented in a standard definition, 4:3 format with stylized pillar boxes. ESPN, however maintains a policy that any video that originates in high definition must remain in HD when aired on ESPNHD. Unlike all other sports programming networks, ESPN charges for its HD channel.
Recently the network has come under considerable scrutiny from industry technicians and early adopters of HD due to a recent noticeable degradation in picture quality, specifically during live events. It is unclear whether this is the result of over-compression, rate shaping or bit starving from cable and satellite providers or something amiss in the ESPN distribution chain.
The NBA on ESPN
WNBA on ESPN (Originally the WNBA on ESPN2)
ESPN also broadcasts a range of horse racing and tennis events. 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.
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 skits 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 Now was a former rolling digital cable barker channel which aired from 2001-2004 and featured a scoring ticker, along with ESPN and Go.com 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.
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 day of the 2003 NCAA Men's 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.