ESPN’s Launch Changes Sports TV Landscape
The sports television landscape was changed forever on September 7, 1979 with the launch of the world’s first all-sports, satellite-delivered cable television network. The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, based in Bristol, Conn., is beamed to affiliate systems nationwide on Satcom I, Transponder #7 and is now seen in approximately four million U.S. households.
Led by former NBC Sports president Chester R. Simmons, ESPN signed an agreement with the NCAA on March 1 for exclusive rights to televise select events. The network’s programming schedule is highlighted by college football (approximately 50 games), soccer (26 games) and basketball; tennis, including Davis Cup, the U.S. Women’s Indoor Championship and the Wightman Cup Women’s Tournament; Professional Bowling Association events; and a series of exhibitions featuring the United States Olympic Hockey team as it prepares for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Other sports already covered in ESPN’s short existence include American Legion baseball, international and collegiate volleyball, professional boxing, USAC modified and sprint car racing, world amateur wrestling, the American Soccer League championship, the Royal International Horse Show, lacrosse, full contact karate, professional and celebrity golf, harness racing and rugby.
The first event covered by ESPN was a Slo-Pitch Softball World Series game between the Milwaukee Schlitzes and the Kentucky Bourbons.
Two other announcements indicate the promise of the revolutionary concept of ESPN — the May 20 advertising agreement with Anheuser-Busch, the largest single buy in the history of cable television; and the signing of long-time sports commentator Jim Simpson in September. With more than 30 years of experience, most recently with NBC, Simpson’s familiar voice now distinguishes many of The Total Sports Network’s premier events.
Perhaps ESPN’s most unique feature is the daily live SportsCenter shows that provide viewers with the most up-to-date informational sports service available covering scores, news, previews, features and highlights of amateur, professional, national and international events. The shows are strategically located during ESPN programming with half-hour presentations at the beginning and end of each broadcasting day and at other prime viewing times during the day and evening. Shorter versions are also aired between regular programming.
ESPN’s multi-million dollar Broadcast Operations Center at ESPN Plaza in Bristol, Conn. includes two 10-meter satellite earth stations and the most up-to-date technical equipment available.