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About ESPN 

A Brief History 

ESPN was founded by father-son duo Bill and Scott Rasmussen, and officially launched at 7pm on September 7, 1979. Bill Rasmussen, after being fired from his job as a television sports reporter in 1978, conceived of the idea for a cable network that would feature Connecticut sports programming. When he discovered that buying a 24 hr satellite feed would ultimately be less expensive than buying blocks for a few hours a night, he rethought his original idea, and expanded to a 24hr nationwide network. This was a huge risk, considering that in 1979, there were no 24 hour networks. [1] However, once big investors, such as Getty Oil, took notice of the endeavor, ESPN was able to officially get off the ground, airing the first episode of SportsCenter on that exciting night in 1979. Thus, ESPN was born.

The first show to air on ESPN was Sportscenter, which “offers breaking news, highlights, features and in-depth analysis from award-winning journalists” and “averages 100 million viewers a month.” [2] SportsCenter continues to be a gem of ESPN original programming. Although SportsCenter was successful, ESPN did not garner the reputation it has today until it began broadcasting high profile games. After a brief partnership with the NBA, which ended in 1984 but was renewed 18 years later. ESPN's big break came in 1987 when ESPN gained partial rights to the NFL and began airing Sunday Night Football.  The arrival of the NFL on ESPN turned ESPN shifted ESPN from just an average sports channel, into the leading sports network. Today, ESPN has partnerships with all four American major league sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB), and also other American leagues and international leagues as well. 

ESPN broadcasts primarily from Bristol, Connecticut, but has offices in New York City, Seattle, Charlotte, NC, and Los Angeles. ESPN broadcasts 65 sports, 24 hours a day in 15 languages in more than 150 countries.

Production, Distribution, and Transmission 

ESPN is its own cable network, owned by two parent companies, Disney (owns 80%) and Hearst (owns 20%). [3] ESPN produces its own programming with its own talent, studios, producers etc. ESPN is distributed to over 90 million subscribers, and over the years has developed many different outlets for distributing a variety of sports programming to its loyal viewers. 

  • ESPN on ABC (Broadcast)- ESPN produces some content for ABC sports 
  • Six Domestic Cable Networks
  1. ESPN (launched in 1979 – currently 99.5 M homes, ESPN HD launched in 2003)
  2. ESPN2 (1993 – 99.5 M, ESPN2 HD launched in 2005)
  3. All-sports news ESPNEWS (1996 – 73.5M, ESPNEWS HD launched in 2008)
  4. ESPNU (2005 – 72.5 M, focuses on college sports, ESPNU HD launched in 2008)
  5. ESPN Classic (purchased in 1997 – 42.0M, focuses on great sports moments and stars of the past)
  6. Spanish-language ESPN Deportes (2004 – 5.3 M Hispanic homes)
  • Syndicated programming via ESPN Regional Television (the largest syndicator of college sports TV), including the new SEC Networks (football, men’s/women’s basketball & Olympic Sports), plus Big East and WAC (football and men’s basketball), and Big 12 and Mid-American (football), plus subscription packages
  • 46 International networks [4]

Signature Programming and Genre Trends 

Most of the programming on ESPN is sporting events, whether live or tape-delayed. ESPN also features sports news such as their signature program SportsCenter, and sports talk shows. While live event programming and talk shows make up most of ESPN’s programming, ESPN also features the occasional sports-related documentary or original series. But whatever the style or theme of the program, ESPN remains dedicated to strictly sports-related programming, 24 hrs a day. 

Advertising and the Brand

Branding, Advertising and Promotional Techniques

ESPN's promotional techniques are excellent although not completely necessary to their survival as a brand. They have an almost monopoly on sports broadcasting and most people in the United States are aware of that. Some of their techniques, however, have allowed them to keep that monopoly and their viewers satisfied with it.

One of these strategies is Fantasy Sports Leagues. Boys of all ages are able to choose from athletes on all teams and make the best team possible through a "Draft". Each week, the players are scored and ranked based on how they have played and teams are then given a score or ranking. This allows the viewer to get more involved in the games. It also has the added bonus of more fans watching the games to see how their players are doing.

Yet another technique that ESPN employs is the sale of sports gear. Fans are able to wear their teams colors proudly, no matter the sport. Sports fans of all ages know that when they need a new jersey, ESPN is the place to go.

Lastly is ESPN Zone. This glorified sports bar features televisions, broadcasting all ESPN all the time, placed strategically throughout the restaurant. This restaurant has a variety of "game" food ranging from buffalo wings to hamburgers. Another prominent section is the screening room (in which the seats are comfortable recliners) where "The Game" is always playing. On top of all of this is the Sports Arena: a room filled with all the arcade games a twelve year old boy could ever dream of. All of this combines to become the ultimate location to watch the game with friends or take your son for his birthday party.[5]

Specific Target Audiences

ESPN's target audience includes all sports fans but the majority of viewers are males ranging in age from twelve to forty five years old. In addition to this constant audience is the audience that watches during major sporting events such as the Superbowl. A dramatic increase in viewers during the Superbowl enables ESPN to raise the rates for advertising spots and enables advertisers to reach a broader audience.


Since ESPN plays most games live, they don't really have to worry about putting certain programs up against other shows. People who want to watch the game are far more likely to tape another show in order to watch the game live. Because of this, ESPN has not had scheduling difficulties and shows such as Monday Night Football are usually number one in the ratings for that time slot.[6]

Ownership and Conglomeration


In 1978, Stuart Evey, a top executive for Getty Oil, made a deal to buy a majority stake in ESPN.  After gaining some success in the early 1980s, ABC bought ESPN for $225 million in 1984.[7]  ABC held an 80% share and sold 20% to Hearst.  In 1996, the Walt Disney Company purchased ABC for $19 billion.[8]

Corporate Structure

ESPN's business and managment fuctions are divided into six specific areas as outlined by ESPN and ABC Sports President and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, George Bodenheimer: content, technology, sales and marketing, international, finance and administration.[9]

  • Content- John Skipper, Executive Vice President - oversees content in all forms for all ESPN and ABC sports television, radio, Internet, publishing, wireless, broadband and enterprise operations.
  • Technology- Chuck Pagano, Executive Vice President - responsible for all technology sectors within ESPN, ensuring ESPN's efficient utilization and development of technology.
  • Sales and Marketing- Sean Bratches, Executive Vice President - oversees all affiliate and advertising sales, research, marketing, and special events.  This brings into one division ESPN's two primary revenue streams, affiliate and advertising sales, supported by marketing, research, and client support services. 
  • International- Russell Wolff, Executive Vice President and Managing Director - leads initiatives around the world increasing the financial success of ESPN's international operations. 
  • Finance- Christine Driessen, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer - oversees all financial operations including financial and program planning, strategic development, and office of the controller. 
  • Administration- Ed Durso, Executive Vice President - oversees legal and government affairs, communications, facilities, human resources, and security. 

Corporate Partnerships

  • National Football League - ESPN currently hold rights to Monday Night Football and is working on procuring rights to stream Monday Night Football.[10]
  • Microsoft- ESPN has an exclusive partnership with Microsoft to stream ESPN content to XBOX systems via the online service XBOX Live.[11]
  • ABC- ESPN on ABC supplanted ABC Sports in 2006.[12]
  • Time Warner Cable - Disney recently renewed a deal with Time Warner Cable for continued access to its cable channels as well as access to streaming broadband capabilities for its websites, including, which focuses on live events.[13] Time Warner Cable's Disney Properties represent 28% of its total programming outlays, "the most of any programmer." 
  • Verizon FiOS- Disney also recently agreed to a similar deal for all FiOS subscribers with the added ESPN Goal Line, which focuses on college football.[14]


Monday Night Football

Monday Night Football is a show that airs on Mondays and shows one of the games that is playing that night. Kickoff time is at 8:30 and the games usually last around three hours. The game is enhanced by the commentary of Jon Gruden, Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski. Throughout the game, instant replay and slow motion is used to help the viewer fully understand what happened and why certain calls have been made.

From 1970 to 2005 Monday Night Football aired on ABC, however, it was moved to ESPN. ESPN and ABC are both owned by Disney so the change made sense to most people with knowledge of the industry. One of the main reasons for this change was because ABC revenues from the show were not doing as well as they could have been and despite their best efforts, ABC could not get them back up.[15] The target audience of Monday Night Football

The schedule is made in April, therefore the game that airs is not necessarily the most important, or highly anticipated, game of the week. Throughout the years, however, this program has stayed on the top of the ratings and sports fans are keeping it there. Football has become the new American pastime and although not everyone plays it, the vast majority does enjoy watching it. ESPN has capitalized on this and promotes Monday Night Football during their other shows, such as SportsCenter.

Since some local channels are ABC/ESPN affiliates, there are some problems with the broadcasting of Monday Night Football and Dancing With the Stars since they both air live and at the same time. However, this is not a constant or national problem. In addition, since the length of the game is always unknown, it is hard to schedule a show for directly afterwards, as the amount of time left in the time segment could be awkward.[16]


History of SportsCenter 

''SportsCenter is ESPN’s daily sports news program. SportsCenter airs throughout the day on ESPN, replaying the day’s scores and sports highlights. The show first aired in 1979 and was the first program to air on ESPN, and since then it has aired over 30,000 times. It was conceived by executive producer John Walsh, and apparently, on the first episode, co-anchor Lee Leonard said, “If you're a fan, what you will see in the next minutes, hours, and days to follow may convince you that you've gone to sports heaven."[17] This demonstrates how SportsCenter was an innovative show at this time, when a news style program completely devoted to sports was unheard of. Sportscenter is filmed in HDTV studios in Bristol, CT (the original site of the ESPN studios) and also in Los Angeles.

The Style ofSportsCenter

In the late 1980s executive producer John Walsh adopted a “newspaper style” for SportsCenter, meaning that the show began covering events in order of importance, rather than focusing simply on a specific sport. This also resulted in a more fragmented format of the show or "segments." 

SportsCenter is divided into segments and new segments are constantly being added depending on the season or changes in sports, etc. Some of the segments are Top Ten (best ten plays of the day, week, year, etc depending), Sunday Conversation (airing on Sundays, an interview with an athlete, coach, or someone involved in sports), Budweiser Hot Seat (a celebrity (sports related or not) will be asked to take on opinion on an athletic issue).

In what can be seen as an attempt to appeal to a wider audience and range of viewers, SportsCenter does not just highlight or feature athletes or those involved in sports. For example, comedian Will Ferrell was featured on the Sunday Conversation segment, and he was interviewed about sports, but he took a much more comedic tone in the interview. He offered the sportscaster some new taglines like “Holy Tornado!” or “Goodnight Doctor!"[18] 

Also,SportsCenter’s ad campaign “This is SportsCenter” does not solely use sports and athletics to promote the program. They use humor, timely social issues (climate change, for example), or celebrities to help promote their show in these seemingly irrelevant advertisements. For example, there is one advertisement that takes place in the ESPN cafeteria and Arnold Palmer walks up to the drink dispensers and calmly mixes lemonade and iced-tea while some ESPN executives look on in awe. As Palmer walks away one whispers, “That was awesome.”[19] This sort of ad, though still related to sports, is not using sports to highlight the program and entice viewers. Instead, it uses humor to try to convince viewers to watch the show, adopting a sort of “sports can be funny, too” mentality, which is seen in the Sunday Conversation segment with Ferrell. 


  1. "The Journey Begins-Abruptly!." How It Started n. pag. Web. 7 Oct 2010. <>.
  2. "ESPN Fact Sheet ." ESPN MediaZone Summer 2010 : n. pag. Web. 7 Oct 2010. <>.
  3. "Company Overview." Walt Disney Company n. pag. Web. 7 Oct 2010. <>.
  4. "ESPN Fact Sheet ." ESPN MediaZone Summer 2010 : n. pag. Web. 7 Oct 2010. <>.
  5. Official Site. 8 October 2010. <>
  6. Official Site. 7 October 2010. <>
  15. "Monday Night Football." Questions, Answers, How To's and Coupons. Web. 04 November 2010. <>.
  16. "Monday Night Football." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 04 November 2010. <>.