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ESPN, Inc.: 1986 in Review


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ESPN, in its seventh year, took “further strides in providing the nation’s sports fans the broadest and most in-depth coverage of sports on television,” according to J. William Grimes, ESPN president and chief executive officer.

In addition to a strengthened programming schedule, ESPN experienced steady growth in advertising sales and in the number of its affiliates and subscribers, adding more than two million homes.  Also, while most cable networks experienced a decline in ratings, ESPN maintained the same level in the first half of the year and increased its ratings in the third quarter.

“I am delighted with the progress ESPN made in 1986,” added Grimes.  “We acquired long-term, cable-exclusive deals in college football and basketball; added innovative series like ‘Scholastic Sports America;’ and enhanced SportsCenter, the network’s flagship program.”

The following are highlights of 1986:

Programming and Production                            Corporate Announcements


America’s Cup — 80 hours in 1986-87                 39.3 million subscriber homes

Auto Racing — record 84 events telecast             SportsCenter granted trademark

Super Slo-Mo utilized in NHL                                Nike signs seven-figure advertising

CFA — four-year extension of prime-time                agreement

series, new four-year deal for late                    ESPN/Pan Am World Tour

afternoon package                                                  Sweepstakes

“Whiparound” format enhances post-season     Home video instructional series

basketball and hockey coverage.                     Third quarter rating increase

Big East & Big Ten basketball — three-year        Record 13 ACE Award nominations

pacts                                                                       Burnett, Brando and Saunders join

NAIA basketball — ‘87 tournament                            SportsCenter

Scholastic Sports America — first national

high school sports show

Bowling — PBA Summer Tour, LPBT Fall Tour

A summary of 1986’s key developments follows:


  • All-women commentating team utilized for Division I women’s basketball tourney:  Leandra Reilly (play-by-play) and Mimi Griffin (analyst).
  • ESPN’s “Conference Tournament Central” features 27 college basketball games and provides “whiparound” format of live cut-ins to 45 other games.


  • Extensive Stanley Cup Playoff coverage features 35 games in 50 days, including Stanley Cup finals.  Network utilizes “whiparound” format, cutting in to other live games 115 times, plus 80 times on tape.


  • ESPN and CFA extend agreement to provide live prime-time games through 1990.
  • Extensive live coverage of World Cup Soccer tourney presented:  15 games, 14 live.


  • ESPN reaches four-year agreement with CFA for late afternoon package of 12 games.


  • ESPN and Nike, Inc. sign seven-figure ad agreement, giving Nike product exclusivity for all college basketball programming through 1986-87.


  • ESPN, the nation’s largest cable TV network, is received in 39.3 million subscriber households, representing 45 percent of country’s TV homes.