ESPN Inc. is an American sports media conglomerate based in Bristol, Connecticut. Jointly owned by Disney-ABC Television Group, a division of The Walt Disney Company (which owns a 80% majority share) and Hearst Communications (which owns a 20% minority share), it owns various sports broadcasting operations, including cable channels (such as the titular ESPN), a sports radio network, an accompanying website, and other assets.
ESPN markets itself as the "Worldwide Leader in Sports". Most programming on ESPN networks consist of live or tape-delayed sporting events, sports news programming, sports talk shows, and original series and documentaries.
ESPN Inc. was founded in 1979 by Bill Rasmussen attempting to broadcast Connecticut sports over ESPN cable channel. Getty Oil, Anheuser-Busch and the NCAA all got involved with the new cable channel. In 1984, ABC purchase a stake in the company. ABC merged with Capital Cities. The combined company was purchased by the Walt Disney Co. in 1996.
Shortly after being terminated as World Hockey Association's New England Whalers communications director, Rasmussen conceived in May 1978 of a plan to product Connecticut sports events for Connecticut cable systems. With his son, Scott, they had move beyond that considering a national sports channel doable. RCA had an underused satellite thus pushing for customers. Finding it cheaper to rent a satellite transponder full time instead of 5 hours a day, they changed their plans to a national channel.
Bill Rasmussen got the NCAA on February 7, 1979 in principal to grant ESPN broadcast rights for its sports. The next day at the Texas Cable Show, he was able to get cable companies on board. An advertising contract with Anheuser-Busch was in talk at that time. Getty Oil came on board as its major source of capital. In 1979, Rasummen purchased the first acre for ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn. With a reasonable payment program in July 1979, Rasmussen leased RCA's Satcom 1 transponder using his credit card. Anheuser-Busch became a major sponsor signing a $1.4 million ad contract, a record at the time. Getty Oil invested $10 million into ESPN getting a controlling stake in 1979.
On September 7, 1979, ESPN cable channel went on the air with 24-hours of programming on the weekends and limited hours during the week. 625 cable system affiliates were signed up at launch and they had 1 million household subscribed total (out of 20 million households with cable). The channel's first game featured the Milwaukee Schlitzes and the Kentucky Bourbons slow-pitch world series softball.
In 1980, the company was named in a Texas divorce filing. Ground breaking for its headquarters took place. Full time broadcasting began in September 1980. Additional programming at the time included weekly boxing matches.
NBC Sports President Chet Simmons was hired to help run the cable channel. Simmons and Rasmussen were at odds with Getty Oil executives siding with Simmons. At the end of 1980, Rasmussen was removed as company president by Getty Oil executive for ESPN, Stuart Evey, relegating him to a ceremonial role. Rasmussen left in 1981 and sold his remaining stock in 1984.
Investing another $15 million into the company and no profits expected any time soon, Getty used management consultant McKinsey & Co. to assess ESPN's future. McKinsey's lead consultant was Roger Werner, who figured with another $120 million and five years ESPN would become a profit maker. Werner soon was hired by ESPN as vice-president of finance, administration, and planning and developed a new business plan. Werner developed a new revenue source beyond advertising by initiating revolutionary affiliate fees paid by the cable operators by number of subscribers starting at 6 cents. Between CBS Cable folding in October 1982 and the new CEO, Bill Grimes, they convince most of the reluctant cable providers to pay. By 1985, the fee was 10 cents.
ESPN was the largest cable channel by the end of 1983 with 28.5 million households. Also in 1983, the company began distributing programming outside the US. ABC, Inc. purchased in January 1984 a 14% holding in the company followed by a June purchased of a controlling interest. Capital Cities Communications, Inc. bought ABC in early 1986 to form Capital Cities/ABC Inc. In 1988, Werner became ESPN's president and CEO.
ESPN started out expanding into other nations and additional channels. The ESPN International unit was form in 1988 to start channels in other nations beginning with ESPN Latin America in 1989. In 1992, ESPN Asia was launched. ESPN partnered with TF1 and Canal Plus for a made over Eurosport to enter Europe.
RJR Nabisco sold its 20 percent stake in ESPN to the Hearst Coropration. Werner resigned as CEO and president in October 1990 for another sports CEO job. Steve Bornstein replaced him in the CEO post moving up from the second position of executive vice-president in charge of programming and production.
With ABC Radio Network, the company started ESPN Radio Network in 1991 with programming 16 hours per week. Ohlmeyer Communications' sports programming division was purchased in March 1993. ESPN launched ESPN2 on October 1, 1993 at 7:30 PM. The channel at the time was targeting those age 18-34. In 1994, ESPN acquired Creative Sports and from Dow Jones an 80 percent stake in SportsTicker.
In August 2016, Disney purchased a 1/3 stake in BAMTech for $1 billion from MLB Advanced Media with the option to purchase a majority share, which it later exercised now owning 75% . Disney purchased the stake to first develop an ESPN subscription streaming service, later named ESPN+. The service would not include any current ESPN channel or its content, but tap BAMTech licensed rights and ESPN college rights.
Under the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's rules regarding foreign broadcasters, ESPN has been prohibited from acquiring majority ownership of any channel operating in Canada. Instead, ESPN partnered with several Canadian firms to form a privately held consortium named NetStar Communications in 1995, which then acquired the sports networks TSN and RDS. These Canadian partners then sold their shares in 2001 to CTV Inc. (now Bell Media). ESPN continues to own 20 percent of what is now CTV Specialty Television while Bell Media owns the remaining 80 percent.
The sports channels owned by the CTV Specialty Television subsidiary:
Through CTV Specialty Television, ESPN also has an indirect interest in several channels operated in partnership with Discovery Communications, but ESPN is not believed to be directly involved with these operations.
In 2006, ESPN acquired the North American Sports Network (NASN), later re-branded as ESPN America in 2008. ESPN launched a domestic channel in the United Kingdom after acquiring a portion of the local rights package to the Premier League alongside Sky Sports, replacing the collapsing Setanta Sports. The contract lasted from the 2009-10 season to the 2012-13 season. However, by 2012, the network had begun to lose many of its key sports rights, including the Premier League, to BT Group.
On January 25, 2013, ESPN reached a deal to sell its television business in the United Kingdom and Ireland, including ESPN America's programming rights, to BT Group. The ESPN channel in the United Kingdom was placed under the control of BT Sport, while ESPN Classic and ESPN America were shut down. ESPN continues to operate digital properties targeting the United Kingdom, including its ESPN.co.uk, ESPN FC, ESPNcricinfo, and ESPNscrum websites. Two years later, ESPN reached a long-term deal with BT Sport for British rights to ESPN original programming and international event rights.