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Published:April 29th, 2007 14:50 EST
The Evolution of ESPN

The Evolution of ESPN

By Peter Giordano

Many reporters and scholars will all agree that sports journalism and sports itself has an extraordinary impact and influence in the world today.  Leonard Koppett wrote in his book entitled Sports Illusion, Sports Reality that “in 1980, millions of Americans who cared nothing about spectator sports suddenly found their attention claimed by four major general news stories.” Included in that list is the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics led by Jimmy Carter and the U.S. following the Soviets invasion of Afghanistan, along with the startling news that collegiate players across the country had their records forged in order for eligibility in their respective sport. 

Koppett brilliantly goes on to write that “sports-programming emerged as a key battleground.”  He ponders the question as to “why would athletic games designed entirely for entertainment and recreation, acquire the power to influence to such a degree international relations, domestic politics, and the educational system?” 

Kopett goes on to call sports an establishment, or a business of such.  He proves this when he states that “in no other country today do the amounts of money spent, tickets bought, games played, livelihoods involved, words printed, or hours televised match American totals either by absolute or proportional measure.”  With the magnitude of these events and experiences occurring in our country, it becomes a perfect example of how influential and important sports journalism is to our society.

Ever since 1987, ESPN’s first national broadcast of Sunday Night Football, the television ratings have been the same for any state, age group, or race.  ESPN has a longer history than from 1987.  It dates back to 1979. 

A father and son team of Bill Rasmussen and his son Scott, had an idea to launch a cable network devoted to broadcasting New England Whalers hockey games and University of Connecticut sports events with other sports-related programming.  Now other networks had rights to broadcast different football games, basketball games, and collegiate sports etc, but the key was ESPN wanted to do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  The original creation of ESPN was used as an alternative to the information found in “Sports” sections of news papers.  The small company was bought by the Getty Oil Company in 1979 before it became famous for broadcasting odd and very “unorthodox sporting events such as the Worlds Strongest Man Competition, Australian Rules football, and many other sporting events only known to the international world.”

As aforementioned, in 1987 ESPN said goodbye to lifting cars above their heads and welcomed in the most sought out event in the sports world, Sunday Night Football.  It was the Houston Oilers at the San Francisco 49ers.  With future hall-of-famers on display such as Joe Montana and Warren Moon, ESPN had the world watching.  From there ESPN had the rights to broadcast Sunday Night Football all the way up until its last broadcast in 2006.  As time went by, ESPN’s popularity grew.  Presently in 2006, ESPN now has over seven networks in its family including ESPN 2, ESPN Classic, ESPN News, and ESPN Deportes launched in 2004, a channel devoted to broadcasting sports in the Spanish language.

Probably the staple of ESPN and the younger generation of our time is Sportscenter.  The network started the television show in 1979, but didn’t show a single sports clip.  Since then, it has shown over 25,000 times with its 26,000th episode sometime in the immediate future.  It airs over six times a day featuring news, highlights, and scores from the previous day’s events.

In 1992, ESPN then launched a national sports radio network holding daily talk-shows and broadcasting any game ESPN has the rights to.  It has over 40 broadcasting stations throughout the country.  The radio network is also a subscriber to the recently popular satellite radios (Sirius and XM).  In that same year, as many other business and entrepreneurs do, ESPN launched its own bi-weekly magazine, fittingly titled ESPN the Magazine.  The magazine typically will take a more light-hearted and funny approach to the world of sports than its competitors Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News.

ESPN has undoubtedly become our country’s leading cable network for good reason.  The public at first laughed at the father and son team’s idea to start a network exclusively dedicated to sports.  Many thought that at that time they had no business trying to compete with newspapers and the “big cats” of television.  By 1996, that was all forgotten when it received its title for being the largest cable network available to over 68 million homes.  Today, the network is available in over 90 million homes with that number steadily climbing.  The network is also available to over 140 different countries!   

The network, through sheer determination and its inability to stop succeeding transformed itself into a colossal corporation.