Arts and Culture
Food and Wine
People and Places
Science and Nature
Travel and Lodging
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » CONNECTICUT » ESPN, Bristol, Connecticut
ESPN, Bristol, Connecticut

Starting the Local Network that became an International Powerhouse

By Peter F. Demers | May 31, 2011

One of the characteristics often used to describe a typical New Englander is ingenuity. There are thousands of stories of New England resourcefulness, but few match the global impact and success of Connecticut father and son, Bill and Scott Rasmussen.

Ground Breaking - Bill Rasmussen and Mike Werner

Driving down to the Jersey shore one evening in August 1978, the men were discussing their frustration at only being able to watch those sporting events that were shown on the major television networks.

Bill, formerly the Communications Director for the New England Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes), had previously organized a network of eleven radio stations to broadcast University of Massachusetts basketball games and was now looking for a way to broadcast UConn games.

He had recently met an RCA salesman who was selling channel space on a communications satellite but the costs were prohibitive for airing simply basketball games.   Then came the million dollar idea.   Why not transmit not just basketball, but other sporting events to take advantage of this new broadcast technology?

In 1978, few of Connecticut’s cable stations had satellite dishes capable of receiving transmissions and the idea of a total sports network was unheard of. With little money, the Rasmussen’s pressed forward, opening a small office in Plainville, Connecticut and naming their new company, the Entertainment Sports Programming Network.

In September, the team submitted an application to the FCC for a twenty-four hours a day transponder license, simply because the fee was less than the standard five hour license.   If successful, the new network would be able to transmit both statewide and nationally.

Shortly after their application was submitted, the Wall Street Journal published a front page article extolling the potential of satellite television and the “big boys” jumped in, but since the FCC awards licenses on a first come, first serve basis, ESPN was at the front of the pack and were granted their twenty four hour license.

ESPN Staff on Opening Night

In February 1979, the NCAA contracted with ESPN for an extensive package of games and events. Shortly thereafter, Anheuser-Busch signed a $1.4 million dollar advertising deal with the fledgling company - the largest advertising buy in cable history at that time. With Getty Oil purchasing an 85 percent interest in the network, and a solid financial foundation established, the real business of constructing a broadcast facility, hiring both on and off air crew, as well as signing more cable systems began in earnest.

Setting themselves just seven months to launch, the construction of a broadcast facility in neighboring Bristol, Connecticut was fast tracked and experienced broadcast executives were recruited.

Chet Simmons was lured away from NBC Sports to become President of ESPN, bringing with him Alan “Scotty” Connal, who became Vice President of Broadcast Operations.   Jim Simpson joined as an on-air announcer, as did George Grande, a former sports anchor for New Haven’s WTNH.

The network officially launched at 7PM on September 7, 1979, as scheduled, with the broadcast of the first “Sports Center,” followed by the live broadcast of the Professional Softball World series.

The Newsroom in 1980

The next few months were typically chaotic as the new network worked to expand its programming from an average of ten hours each weekday, and twenty four hours at weekends, to a full 24/7 sports broadcasting network.

With ESPN on the road to becoming a broadcasting powerhouse, what became of the father and son team who started it all?

Their creativity, drive and stamina overcame almost insurmountable obstacles, but no longer in control of their creation, both left ESPN in 1980 wealthy men.

Neither entrepreneur simply faded into the sunset. Bill remains active on the speaker circuit, authored the book, “Sports Junkies Rejoice: The Birth of ESPN,” and has developed another sports venture, www.collegefanz.com.

Scott on the other hand totally changed gears and started a hugely successful polling organization, Rasmussen Reports, which has the largest online audience for public opinion data.

In a little under three years the Rasmussen’s devised, financed and began broadcasting ESPN - a testament to their extraordinary skills and ingenuity.

Share |
ONE is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.