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Announcing ESPN to the World

ESPN Work Billboard at Bristol, ConnecticutOne sleepy afternoon in late 1978, my partners and I discovered by accident that a one acre parcel of land was available on Middle Street in Bristol, Connecticut. We didn’t have any money, but we were talking to Getty Oil about an investment and, if they invested, we would have to build a facility somewhere - so why not Bristol?

We were renting office space in Plainville, Connecticut at the time, but a local ordinance prohibited any construction that included a dreaded “satellite dish.”

Getty eventually did invest, and the sign above was installed on Parcel A of the Bristol Redevelopment Authority’s newly available site on Middle Street. With the enthusiasm of the moment, and assuming that we would eventually grow a bit, we immediately got approval from the Bristol Postmaster to use the address “ESPN Plaza.” We even asked Bristol for an option (or at least a reservation) on the adjacent Parcel B - talk about optimism! Well, grow “a bit” ESPN did and today the “ESPN Campus” occupies 100 acres and is Bristol’s largest taxpayer.

Early ESPN Concept TruckI had five minutes to sell the idea during a New Programming Seminar at the annual Texas Cable Show. Worse yet, I was 8th and last on the program...boredom had long since set in for the 600 people in the audience.

My time was brief, but my message full of promise for an industry wondering what this “satellite age” held in store for their business. Talking fast about 30 minute sports-only news shows, NCAA basketball, football, the College World Series, thousand of hours of live programming from venues all over the country and then unveiling the model production truck caught the attention of the now bleary-eyed conventioneers. One gentleman said, “If you can do half the stuff you just said you were going to do, this will be a huge success.” How prophetic!

Why are ABC, CBS and NBC afraid of this man?Were ABC, CBS and NBC really afraid?

Truth to tell - not really, but at least they knew we were around! We were considered a nuisance at best. After all, who would watch sports 24 hours a day? Worse yet, who would watch any sports event produced by “a cable outfit?” Most predicted an early demise.

It didn’t work out quite the way the “Big Three” predicted. By the time this magazine was on the newsstands, Chet Simmons, long-time president of NBC Sports had become ESPN’s president. All three networks were “exploring cable TV opportunities,” and all lost money on adventures they abandoned after trying to conduct their cable business “the right way” - i.e. the way they ran their broadcast businesses.

The Big Three weren’t the only naysayers. The fledgling cable industry had not yet discovered 24 hour programming opportunities, or any advertising potential - either national or local. The cable TV working business proposition was based upon subscriber revenue, and the cable operators certainly weren’t about to pay us a monthly subscriber fee for 24 hour sports. Oh, how things have changed! Schedule Bill for your next event. Share the Dream and inspire your group/team.