Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, commonly known as 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. It was founded by Bill Rasmussen, his son Scott Rasmussen and Aetna insurance agent Ed Eagan.
ESPN holds television broadcast deals with almost every major sports league, including the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, MLS, and most NCAA championships. In addition, ESPN has hundreds of hours of original programming including its flagship show, SportsCenter, featuring news and sports highlights several times a day.
Disney quickly gave ESPN total control over ABC's sports franchise. But more than any issues of management or operations, Disney, which had the best brand in family entertainment and one of the most recognizable brands in the world, understood how valuable ESPN's brand was with the young male demographic. ... What's more, Disney gave ESPN immensely deep pockets, and the ability to buy or launch whatever it needed.
SportsCenter was its first breakout hit. While local broadcast affiliates relegated sports to a few minutes at the tail end of the 11 o’clock news, SportsCenter anchors broke word of trades, injuries, and free-agent signings; flooded the zone on sensational stories like the O.J. Simpson murder case; probed seamier topics like steroid abuse; and delivered game highlights with a wit and literacy previously unknown in sportscasting.
To borrow one of its advertising taglines, this is ESPN: a network as big as the leagues it covers. As a business, ESPN thrives because it is playing a different game than the big public-airwaves networks. NBC and CBS make money from advertising. ESPN does, too, but it takes in even more from cable-subscriber fees—an average of $4.69 per household per month, according to research firm SNL Kagan.
"If you love sports . . . if you REALLY love sports, you'll think you've died and gone to sports heaven. . . . " With those words, opening night host Lee Leonard officially breathed life into an improbable idea and made it a reality. The idea was sports, sports, and more sports, 24 hours a day.
[Scott Connal] once told me, 'I'm going to be able to do something I've never done before as an executive producer.' I expressed my doubts, and then he said, 'We'll do lots of things. We'll even repeat stuff. It's cable, so people can't see it all at the same time. At three in the morning, we'll repeat the NIT basketball game.' I said, 'That might work.' But essentially, Scotty had a feel for and a belief in ESPN from the start.
The truth, of course, is that ESPN didn't stumble fortuitously onto an untapped revenue stream and then work like hell to develop its claim. Rather, the market for 24-hour, dedicated sports coverage on television didn't exist before ESPN created it. ESPN's founders, leaders, backers, and key employees generated that market by understanding the desires of people who follow sports like addicts and striving to fulfill those wants.
They had originally wanted to name it SPN, the Sports Programming Network, but something called the Satellite Programming Network had already laid claim to those letters. Bill knew they'd have a tough time filling hours with only Connecticut sports and argued that they'd have to include some entertainment programming. Thus it was born: ESP, The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.
 was the year that the network began to broadcast early games in the NCAA tournament, with Jim Simpson at the mike - a shifting coverage that has electrified basketball fans since and, quite possibly, has helped to make the NCAA tournament the center of attention it is today. Dan Fitzgerald, the legendary coach of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, later told me, "ESPN was the single most important factor for the popularity of college basketball."
ESPN was a funky little seat-of-the-pants operation in 1979 when it started, in a town so dull that employees worked eighteen-hour days to keep from dying of dying of boredom outside. ESPN now encompasses 6 domestic U.S. cable networks, 46 international networks, ESPN radio in North America and syndicated radio in 11 other far-flung countries, plus online operations, broadband, magazines, books, interactive media, wireless, CDs and DVDs, video games, and restaurants