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ESPN - History, Professional Sports, Expansion

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Bill Rasmussen is the man who started the ball rolling for ESPN in the mid-1970s. He was a sports reporter for NBC in Springfield, MA and also worked for the New England Whaler’s, a hockey team, by selling commercial air time during broadcasts. Rasmussen’s son Scott was the team’s announcer until they were both fired in 1977. Deciding it was time to pursue other dreams, Rasmussen came up with the idea for a cable television network that would cover sports events in Conneticut. He determined it would be more cost-effective to buy a 24-hour satellite feed than a few blocks of air-time and so changed his network to encompass 24-hours, nationwide. Originally named ESP for Entertainment ans Sports Programming, the network was renamed before its first broadcast.

Early in September of 1979, ESPN debuted with “SportsCenter” which was hosted by George Grande and Lee Leonard. Following the show was a pro softball game. In order to fill the 24 hours of air time, ESPN aired a huge variety of sports including college football and basketball games, bowling, and professional wrestling. ESPN convinced the NCAA to allow the network to air early round games of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Many believe this aided college basketball in gaining a larger audience.

Professional Sports

The United States Football League debuted on ESPN in 1983. The league only lasted for three years, but gave the network a taste for professional sports. Four years later, in 1987, ESPN was granted partial rights to air the games of the NFL, the National Football League. These rights were granted as long as ESPN allowed for the games to be simulcast on local television networks. This practice continues today. Sunday Night Football lasted 19 years and made a name for ESPN. NFL games are now aired Monday nights. ESPN also added Major League Baseball games to its broadcast schedule in 1990. Joe Morgan and Jon Miller were named as broadcasters for the MLB games which should continue through 2011. At one time, ESPN had rights to all four of the Major Professional Sports until deciding not to renew its deal with the National Hockey League following a lockout.


The 1990s was a time of growth for ESPN. ESPN2 was founded in 1993 with Suzy Kolber and Keith Oberman launching the broadcasts with SportsNite. In 1996, ESPNEWS came into being and named Mike Tirico as the first anchor. A year later, ESPN bought the Classic Sports Network which was renamed ESPN Classic. ESPN International started in the early 1990s, sending satellite feed to markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In 2004, ESPN launched in the European market by launching ESPN classic. In 2006, ESPN bought the North American Sports Network.

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