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ESPN, Inc.: 1998 in Review

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In 1998, ESPN, Inc. successfully launched two major business initiatives – publishing, with the launch of ESPN The Magazine in March, and themed restaurants with the popular sports entertainment site, ESPN Zone, premiering in Baltimore.  As of the close of the year, The Magazine topped 700,000 in circulation and ESPN Zone had already announced openings in New York and Chicago in 1999.  ESPN also secured two major rights acquisitions, the full-season NFL Sunday night package through 2005 and the NHL through 2004, and delivered record ratings led by the NFL games and studio shows, coverage of baseball’s historic home run chase and SportsCenter hitting its highest viewership ever.  Compared to 1997, ESPN’s prime time ratings were up 18% in the second quarter, 23% in the third and 24% in the fourth. 

ESPN2 passed 60 million homes in 60 months, the fastest growth of any cable network, ESPN Radio expanded to 24 hours through the acquisition of WMVP-AM in Chicago (now ESPN Radio 1000) as the flagship station, and ESPN.com, the most visited sports site on the Internet, renewed agreements to produce the official sites of the NFL, NBA and NASCAR.  The company also acquired Big Fights, Inc., featuring a library of more than 10,000 pieces of boxing and other historic sports footage dating back to the 1800s, and launched its most ambitious documentary series ever, SportsCentury

As ESPN reviews the last hundred years in sports, it also looks forward to its 20th Anniversary, September 7, 1999, and continuing to serve sports fans across the broadest, highest-quality, multimedia platforms in sports. 

Leading this continued growth is Steve Bornstein, who by year’s end was promoted from President to Chairman of ESPN (also President of ABC Sports).  George Bodenheimer, executive vice president, sales and marketing, became President of ESPN. 

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

  • ESPN The Magazine debuted in March to critical acclaim.
  • ESPN Zone, a 35,000-square foot sports-themed dining and entertainment experience, debuted in July.
  • ESPN, now reaching 75.5 million homes, extended its NFL and NHL agreements, added two new bowl games and debuted production innovations including Bat Track (baseball) and 1st and Ten (NFL).
  • ESPN2, now in nearly 62 million homes, became the fastest to surpass the 60 million homes mark and enjoyed a 16% rise in viewership.  New programming included NFL 2Night, ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, College Football 2Night, College Hoops 2Night, World Cup 2Night and Wednesday Major League Baseball doubleheaders in September.
  • ESPNEWS celebrated its second birthday and increased distribution to 10 million homes.
  • ESPN Classic marked its first anniversary as part of the ESPN family; the network is now seen in more than 15 million homes.
  • ESPN International celebrated its 15th anniversary and includes 20 networks reaching more than 150 million households in 20 languages.  ESPN Taiwan launched, and ESPN became available on every continent with the addition of service to Antarctica.  
  • The X Games and Winter X Games both enhanced their status as the world’s leading cutting-edge sports competitions with increased prize money and the largest attendance to date.  The X Games’ popularity overseas was successfully tested with a first-ever qualifying event in Thailand in April.
  • ESPN.com became the new name for what remains the Internet’s most popular sports site (1.2 million visits per day).
  • ESPN Radio debuted Major League Baseball game coverage in March and expanded to 24 hours in October, with Chicago’s WMVP-AM (now ESPN Radio 1000) as its flagship station.
  • ESPN Enterprises opened two more ESPN – The Store outlets in conjunction with The Disney Store.  In addition, pay subscription, home video and book offerings were expanded; Jock Jams 4 was released and a specialty area of ESPN merchandise within Sears stores debuted in October. 
  • ESPN Regional Television, the country’s largest sports syndication company, produced 500 college basketball and 50 college football games, 50 golf events, Arena Football, NASCAR 2Day and more.
  • SportsTicker purchased Howe Sportsdata, the official statistician for all 16 U.S.-based National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the CBA, Arena Football and NPSL.

1998 YEAR IN REVIEW

Jan.                ESPN International marks its 15th anniversary by adding service to Antarctica, making ESPN available on every continent.

              13      ESPN becomes the exclusive cable carrier of the NFL through 2005 with a new agreement that also provides ESPN/ABC exclusive primetime coverage of the NFL.

              15      On Up Close, OJ Simpson gives his first live tv in two years and first since his 1996 conviction in a civil case for the deaths of his ex-wife and Ron Goldman.

              15      ESPN and ABC Sports announce an agreement for exclusive and complete coverage of soccer’s Women’s World Cup ’99 to be held in the U.S.

Feb.       2       ESPN2 sets a viewership record with Duke-North Carolina, 1.6 million homes (2.9 rating).

               9       Recently retired University of North Carolina men’s basketball coach Dean Smith receives the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPY Awards.

              27      ESPN Radio debuts RPM Radio: NASCAR Now on Friday nights.

March    8       ESPN/ESPN2’s 1,000th NHL game – Pittsburgh at Philadelphia.

              11      ESPN The Magazine debuts.

              30      Dick Glover promoted to executive vice president, programming.

              31      Bat Track debuts on opening night MLB telecast (Cleveland at Seattle).  The same game marks the debut of ESPN Radio’s Major League Baseball coverage.

April     14      ESPN hosts and televises a “town meeting” on the topic of race in sports in Houston that includes President Clinton as a panelist.

              20      Former ESPN commentator Jim Simpson receives the Sports Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement.  ESPN wins six others, including Dan Patrick (Host) and Joe Morgan (analyst).

              21      The Bortz Study ranks ESPN/ESPN2 as cable’s leader, generating 21% of local ad sales revenues.

May        2       “NASCAR’s Night in Hollywood,” a two-hour entertainment special, highlights the extensive, year-long programming commemorating NASCAR’s 50th anniversary.

              12      ESPN acquires The Big Fights, Inc., a library of more than 10,000 pieces of boxing, Olympic and other sports footage, some dating back to the late 1800s.

              17      SportsCenter’s 20,000th program is aired at 11 p.m.  To commemorate this milestone, two days later the Smithsonian Institute hosts a panel discussion on the show’s impact.

June    10      ESPN/ESPN2/ABC Sports’ exclusive and complete coverage of the 1998 World Cup Soccer Tournament in France begins – 230 hours of programming including 64 matches in 32 days.

July      11      ESPN Zone opens in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area.  Also, it was announced this year that the concept would expand in 1999 to Chicago and New York (Times Square).

              28      NFL 2Night debuts on ESPN2, the first daily tv show exclusively covering the NFL.

Aug.       4       The first-ever Nielsen study on out-of-home cable viewing shows ESPN averages a nine percent increase in adult male audience in unmeasured locations.

              11      NFL Presents, the long-running and highly honored NFL Films series, premieres on ESPN.

              11      ESPN’s “Bristol University” NFL affiliate promotion becomes the network’s most successful ever, reaching 55 million subscribers.

              24      ESPN and the NHL sign an agreement continuing national, cable-exclusive coverage of up to 200 games per year.  The deal, which will commence in 1999 and run through 2004, also provides for broadcasts on ABC Sports.

              25      Jock Jams 4 is released and in three weeks climbs to #20 on the Billboard chart.

              31      Christine Driessen (executive vice president and chief financial officer) and David Zucker (executive vice president and managing director, ESPN International) are promoted.

Sept.      1       ESPN2 reaches the 60 million homes milestone in 60 months, the fastest growth in the history of cable television.

               2       ESPN and the National Cable Television Cooperative (cable systems totaling 8.5 million households) reach agreement for distribution of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS and ESPN Classic.

               6       ESPN.com receives a new name and a re-design for quicker access across its network of offerings.  This year, ESPN.com also renewed agreements to produce the official on-line sites of the NFL, NBA and NASCAR and continued to set new marks for record usage.

               6       ESPN begins its first full season of Sunday Night Football with many enhancements: Paul Maguire joins as a second analyst and new graphics and music shared with ABC’s Monday Night Football, including the use of Hank Williams Jr. in game openings.

               7       ESPN receives its highest rating ever for a Major League Baseball game, a 9.5 for the Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals game in which Mark McGwire hit his 61st home run (7.1 million households).

               7       That game was followed by SportsCenter, which earned a 4.7 rating, becoming the highest-rated and most-watched “early” SportsCenter in history (excluding partial shows).

               7       “Classic Moments” — daily, 30-second segments highlighting great sports memories of the 20th Century — debut as the first offering of ESPN’s SportsCentury project.

               8       Roger Maris, Reluctant Hero is aired on ESPN Classic, an example of the network meeting its mission to present sports’ past in context with sports today.

              10      San Francisco is chosen as the site of the 1999 X Games.

              27      A series of exciting developments is chronicled on ESPN2 on the final day of the Major League Baseball season: live cut-ins to Mark McGwire’s 69th and 70th home runs, the conclusion of pennant race contests, a near no-hitter by Toronto’s Roy Halladay and plate appearances by the Yankees’ Bernie Williams and Boston’s Mo Vaughn who were battling for the American League batting championship.

              27      ESPN debuts “1st and Ten” on the Cincinnati at Baltimore NFL telecast.  The computer-generated yellow line at the point the offense must reach for a first down is widely praised.

              28      ESPN’s most-watched baseball game – the Chicago – San Francisco one-game playoff.  The telecast earned an 8.1, the second best baseball rating, but when combined with the over-the-air local market audiences, 7.5 million households were tuned in, a record.

              30      ESPN Taiwan launches.

Oct.                 An ESPN specialty area opens in 100 Sears stores nationwide; 350 more to follow by Spring.

               1       ESPN2 celebrates its fifth anniversary and ESPN crosses the 75 million household mark.

               1       Dick Vitale receives the prestigious Curt Gowdy Award for Broadcast Excellence from the Basketball Hall of Fame.

               2       ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights debuts, reviving a television tradition, enhanced with the addition of a studio presence and a segment featuring classic fights of the past.

               2       ESPNEWS airs live (simulcast on ESPN and ESPN2) the first interview with New York Yankees star Darryl Strawberry after it was announced he had colon cancer.

              12      ESPN Radio becomes a 24-hour service utilizing ABC Radio’s recently purchased WMVP in Chicago, its flagship station: “ESPN Radio 1000.”  A national rollout in January is planned.

              22      Conversations in the Classroom debuts on ESPN.  The quarterly program features athletes discussing a wide variety of topical subjects with students.

              23      ESPN places a microphone on Washington Capitols’ goalie Olaf Kolzig, playing vs.  Buffalo, an NHL first.  On Nov. 4, the second player to be miked is Wayne Gretzky.

Nov.     12      ESPN and the USGA announce an agreement expanding the network’s coverage of the USGA championships through 2005.

              19      Steve Bornstein is promoted to ESPN Chairman and George Bodenheimer is promoted to ESPN President.

              30      ESPN announces it will televise the 2000 America’s Cup from New Zealand.

Dec.       1       SportsTicker purchases Howe Sportsdata International, the official statistician for all 16 U.S.-based National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the CBA, Arena Football and NPSL.

              13      The Sunday Night NFL telecast (N.Y. Jets at Miami) is seen by the fifth biggest audience in cable television history (8.2 million households).

              14      ESPN The Magazine is named “most notable magazine launch” of 1998 as ranked by Samir Husni, author of the “Guide to Consumer Magazines.”           

              19      The first of 11 bowl games on ESPN/ESPN2.  The two networks will combine with ABC Sports to present 18 of the 22 bowl games, including the inaugural Bowl Championship Series, highlighted by the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl for the national title.

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