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ESPN, Inc.: 2001 in Review

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The attacks of September 11 will dominate every review of the year just ended and ESPN is no different.  That day affected the nation and its people as no other day in our history.  Still, sports stories needed to be told and sports fans turned to ESPN first for news about the impact on the sports world and then to share in the patriotism expressed at events when play resumed.  Despite the difficulties of the attacks, its aftermath and a difficult economy, ESPN continued to grow and strengthen its position as “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” developing new businesses and programming initiatives bringing more value to affiliates, advertisers and consumers. 

“The world changed dramatically after September 11 and I was particularly proud of our ESPN employees who cared first and foremost about those affected and then their job of covering sports,” said George Bodenheimer, ESPN President.  “This has been a difficult year and we are fortunate that our brand is extremely strong and growing, given the great value we deliver to fans and to our affiliates worldwide, and with our multimedia, integrated marketing platform for advertisers.” 

In a 2001 cable operator survey, ESPN was cited number one in driving subscriptions to cable, in retention of subscribers and in local advertising revenue.   ESPN ABC Sports Customer Marketing and Sales struck several multi-year, multi-media agreements with major advertisers.                 

  • ESPN – for 22 years the leading sports network, is now in over 85 million homes.

Sunday Night Football, ad-supported cable’s highest-rated series for a 15th year, won the live series Sports Emmy.

      —Launched new programming, highlighted by ESPN Original Entertainment (EOE), covering a wide array of programming outside ESPN’s traditional news and event genres, including The Season, Sidelines, The Life, the ESPN The Magazine College Basketball Awards and more.  In production for its premiere in March 2002, is ESPN’s first made-for-TV movie, Season on the Brink, based on the best-selling book with Brian Dennehy in the lead role of Bobby Knight. 

      —New agreements with rightsholders, notably an 11-year deal with the NCAA for 21 Men’s and Women’s championship events, including exclusive coverage of the entire 63-game Women’s Basketball Championship beginning with the 2002-03 season.  Other extensions included the IRL; PBA; PGA TOUR; and a wide-ranging contract with the NBA for non-game TV programming, game telecasts overseas, ESPN Radio and domestic coverage of the new NBDL.  Also, the WNBA schedule was doubled; and the college football, NHRA and tennis schedules were increased.

      —Owned Events, notably the X Games and Great Outdoor Games – continued to grow in prominence.  The X Games enjoyed record attendance at its first indoor venue in Philadelphia and inspired the “X Games Skateparks” (the first opened in November in Atlanta).  Global X Games expansion continued with first-time European and Latin American Qualifiers joining an Asian qualifier and Asian Global Xtour.  GOG attendance and viewership also grew.

      –Recognized the growing U.S. Hispanic market launching ESPN Deportes, Spanish-language Sunday night programming offered free nationwide, including Major League Baseball and NFL.

      –Remained the leader in television technology, adding the ESPN Dead Center camera and The K Zone on Major League Baseball and Scanvision on the Stanley Cup Finals on ABC.  ESPN also received its 29th Sports Emmy Award for technical excellence, winning the Technical Team Remote category for its final season of NASCAR Winston Cup after 20 years in the sport.

  • ESPN2 – now approaching 82 million homes, reached the 80 million mark faster than any cable network in history, and enjoyed its most-watched month ever in August.
  • ESPN Classic – home of the Sports Emmy and Peabody Award-winning SportsCentury, topped 42 million subscribers and aired ESPN’s first adaptation of a book, Dick Schaap’s Flashing Before My Eyes, before his untimely death in Dec.
  • ESPNEWS – the only 24-hour sports news network relaunched in October combining real-time scores and updates with additional box score information and integration with ESPN.com.  Available in 33 million homes.
  • ESPN Today, the first dedicated interactive sports channel, launched in July on DIRECTV.
  • ESPN International – added six networks and now reaches 109 million homes in 145 countries and territories via 25 networks and syndication in 10 languages.  Local SportsCenters were launched in India, Asia, Taiwan and Canada.  Also, ESPN Classic Sport, a network of European channels dedicated to great sports moments from Europe and around the world, was announced, launching first in France in 2002.
  • ESPN.com – the Web’s leading sports site, became the exclusive sports provider for MSN and its 250 million monthly visitors, debuted ESPNRadio.com in March and ESPNOutdoors.com in June, and had its most popular month ever in September — 9.7 million unique visitors, up 28% over Sept. 2000.
  • ESPN Radio – the national home of Major League Baseball, the NBA and the Bowl Championship Series, now with 700 affiliates, added full-time stations in New York and Dallas, bringing that total to 190.
  • ESPN The Magazine, with the youngest and most affluent audience among all national consumer magazines (Spring 2001 MRI), was named to ADWEEK Magazine’s Top 10 Hot List for 2001, won three Ozzie Awards for Excellence in Design and will raise its rate base to 1.5 million in January.
  • Purchased B.A.S.S., the world’s largest fishing organization, and created ESPN Outdoors to coordinate company-wide efforts – highlighted by the BASS Masters Classic, the Great Outdoor Games and B.A.S.S.
  • ESPN Broadband, a PC-based product offering audio and video highlights and headlines, enhanced by the quality of a high-speed cable modem.  The service debuted in Philadelphia during the X Games.
  • ESPN Video On Demand launched as an interactive video store, featuring a growing list of titles
  • ESPN Wireless reached more distribution agreements to deliver scores, sports news and fantasy games to cell phones, pagers, hand-held computer devices and even the tops of New York City taxis.
  • ESPN Regional Television, the nation’s largest live sports syndicator, producing more than 600 sporting events totally more than 2,000 hours annually, purchased the Las Vegas Bowl game.
  • ESPN Enterprises expands ESPN’s presence in the lives of sports fans through books, video games, merchandise, ESPN Zones (now eight, after openings in Anaheim, Las Vegas and Denver).
  • SportsTicker now serves all 31 NFL team sites, increased fantasy content for the four major sports and enhanced international content.