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ESPN, Inc.: 1997 in Review

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In 1997, ESPN, Inc. continued to expand its family of networks and to further extend its brand, creating unprecedented ways for fans to connect with the Worldwide Leader in Sports.  Among the highlights were: the acquisition of Classic Sports Network; the announcement of ESPN West, the company’s first domestic regional network; ESPN2 added nearly 13 million homes to end the year with 53.1 million subscribers; ESPN Radio acquired Major League Baseball distribution rights including the World Series and ESPN International acquired Buenos Aires-based ESPN Sur, bringing the number of international networks to 20.

Together with The Walt Disney Company, ESPN – The Store was opened and ESPN Zone (formerly ESPN Grill), a sports-themed dining and entertainment experience, was announced and will open in Baltimore in 1998.  In print, a line of books is being published with Hyperion, and together with Disney and The Hearst Corporation, ESPN Magazine will launch in March 1998.

“At ESPN, we’re sports fans and our consumers recognize that,” said Steve Bornstein, ESPN president and CEO and president, ABC Sports.  “Together with the creativity and imagination of Disney, we are providing our fans more opportunities to share in the ESPN experience.”

The following are the year’s highlights for ESPN, Inc.:

  • ESPN, now reaching 72.8 million homes, extended its rights agreements with Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, the Big Ten and ACC; debuted the WNBA and announced SportsCentury, the largest non-event commitment in ESPN history chronicalling the games, players and sports personalities of the 20th Century.  Production innovations included MaskCam (baseball), PrePlay (NFL) and Spotlight (NASCAR, baseball; used on NFL since 1994).
  • ESPN2 surpassed the 50 million homes mark and enjoyed a 50% rise in viewership.  Programming enhancements included expanded auto racing, college football and Triple Crown coverage.  New programming included the Boston Marathon, Little League World Series regional finals and the weekly Worldwide Soccer
  • ESPNEWS celebrated its first birthday and signed agreements with TCI, DirecTV and Time Warner while receiving increased exposure through simulcasts on ESPN and ESPN2.
  • Classic Sports Network was acquired in October.  The combination of its valuable and exclusive programming, the libraries of ESPN and ABC Sports, and ESPN’s promotional and marketing expertise promises accelerated growth for the network.
  • ESPN West, ESPN’s first effort in the regional sports network business, was announced for a 1998 launch in Southern California.  The network will feature the Anaheim Angels, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and ESPNEWS.
  • ESPN International, now with 20 networks reaching 155 million households in 21 languages, finalized the merger with STAR Sports in Asia to form ESPN STAR Sports, acquired Telesport (operator of ESPN Sur) in Argentina and signed major programming agreements.
  • The X Games were warmly received in its new home, San Diego, and were joined in January by the inaugural Winter X Games.  X Games-related projects – X Trials, Xperience and merchandise – expanded in the U.S. and abroad; Xperience debuted at Disneyland Paris in September.
  • ESPN SportsZone  (ESPN.com) remained the Internet’s most popular destination site (5-6 million daily impressions).  In addition, the investment by The Walt Disney Company in SportsZone’s producer, Starwave, led to the creation of ESPN Internet Ventures.
  • ESPN Radio signed a five-year agreement with Major League Baseball, with regular season and post season game coverage beginning in 1998, added College GameDay and now has affiliations with 420 stations.
  • ESPN Enterprises worked with Disney to launch ESPN – The Store in suburban Los Angeles, announced the ESPN Zone to debut in Baltimore in 1998 and hosted 800,000 visitors at The ESPN Club in Orlando.  In addition, pay-per-view, home video and video game offerings were expanded; three CDs were released and a line of books began with The 1998 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac.
  • ESPN Magazine is set to launch in March 1998.  The 10 x 12-inch biweekly will embody the style, wit and attitude of ESPN.
  • ESPN Regional Television became the new name for Creative Sports, the country’s largest sports syndication company, which consolidated efforts with ESPN-owned OCC Sports.
  • SportsTicker signed a licensing agreement with the NBA and added pitch-by-pitch coverage of Major League Baseball and a high-speed data network for premium subscribers.

In total, ESPN distributes sports programming and information through 26 networks through various media (20 international, six domestic: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, Classic Sports, ESPN Radio, ESPN SportsZone).

1997 YEAR IN REVIEW

Jan.          6        ESPN acquires Telesport, operator of ESPN Argentina (now ESPN Sur).

   30-Feb. 1         The inaugural Winter X Games at Snow Summit Resort in Big Bear Lake, Calif.

Feb.         28        ESPN presents the first-ever ESPN Town Meeting, hosted by Ted Koppel of ABC News and entitled Sports in Black & White.  The live discussion was preceded by Outside the Lines: Breaking the Line –Jackie Robinson’s Legacy and in October the evening’s programming received the Center for the Study of Sport in Society’s Excellence in Sports Journalism Award.

March       31      ESPN televises its highest-rated and most-watched NCAA women’s basketball game.  The Old Dominion – Tennessee NCAA championship game from Cincinnati, Ohio earned a 4.0 rating, representing 2.85 million homes.

April          3        The Walt Disney Company purchases a significant equity stake in Starwave Corporation, co-producer (with ESPN) of ESPN SportsZone, the most popular destination site on the Internet.  ESPN Internet Ventures is formed.

                  8        ESPN and TCI announce an agreement for carriage of ESPNEWS.

                 23        ESPN wins seven Sports Emmy Awards.

 May           6        ESPN Magazine announced.  The 10 x 12-inch biweekly will debut March 1998.

                 12        ESPN extends its agreement with the PGA Tour, increasing tournament coverage by 58% (from 12 to 19 events annually) effective in 1999.

 June       15        ESPN televises the first of its 10 interleague baseball games, the Boston Red Sox at the New York Mets.

                 17        ESPN-owned Creative Sports becomes ESPN Regional Television.

 July         28        ESPN and the ACC announce an agreement for national cable rights to 100 football games on ESPN and ESPN2 through 2005.

                 29        ESPN and the Big Ten announce an agreement for national cable rights (on ESPN and ESPN2) and cybercasting rights (on ESPN SportsZone) to football and men’s basketball through the end of the 2006-07 season.  The agreement also includes regional syndication rights with ESPN Regional Television.

                 29        ESPN reaches a long-term agreement with DirecTV for distribution of ESPNEWS beginning August 10.

 August     6        ESPN joins forces with USA Today to present the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 coaches poll for college football and men’s and women’s college basketball.

                 10        ESPN2, the fastest-growing network of the 1990s, passes the 50 million mark. 

                 28        ESPN’s 12-game inaugural WNBA schedule culminates with a simulcast of the playoff semifinals with the Lifetime network.

                 28        For the first time, more than one million homes (on average) view an ESPN2 program, the Wyoming at Ohio State football game.  Telecast earned a 2.4 rating, representing an average of 1.2 million households.

                 30        ESPN Radio debuts College GameDay, a day-long program on Saturdays in the fall with college football updates, interviews and analysis.

                 31        Kenny Mayne debuts as Dan Patrick’s co-anchor (11 p.m. ET SportsCenter).

                 31        Jeff Gordon wins NASCAR’s “Winston Million,” a million-dollar bonus for winning three of four designated races; only the second time it has been awarded.

 Sept.       11        ESPN and Tommy Boy Records release Jock Jams, Volume 3, ESPN’s ninth CD and it climbs to #39 on the Billboard charts.

                 16        ESPN – The Store debuts at the Glendale Galleria near Los Angeles, site of the first Disney Store.

                 18        ESPN Radio and Major League Baseball announce a deal for game coverage (beginning in 1998) and a variety of other programming through the 2002 season.  The debut program, Expansion Draft coverage, was November 14.

 Oct.           8        ESPN finalizes purchase of Classic Sports Network.

                 14        ESPN Zone announced.

                 20        SportsCentury announced: approximately 60 hours of programming reviewing the last 100 years in sports.  Is ESPN’s most-extensive, non-event commitment.

 Nov.          3        Hyperion announced a line of books to be published in conjunction with ESPN, beginning with the 1998 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac.

                 15        ESPN wins four CableACE Awards.

                 18        ESPN SportsZone sets traffic record with nearly 850,000 visits on Major League Baseball Expansion Draft day.

 Dec.        10        ESPN West announced, to be launched October 1998 in Southern California, Hawaii and Nevada.

                             ESPN ends the year in 72.8 million homes, ESPN2 in 53.1 million, ESPNEWS in nearly six million, Classic Sports in excess of 10 million, ESPN International in 155 million and ESPN Radio includes 420 affiliates.

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