February 12, 1979 – Four Days Left to Fund E. S. P. Network

Plainville, Connecticut – Scott and Ed worked with the Bristol Redevelopment Authority today and gained a two-week extension to close on the land we wanted to buy.

JB was very low. He had arranged for me to visit Taft Broadcasting tomorrow on my way to Kansas City for another NCAA meeting, but he was so discouraged that he didn’t plan to attend. Not only did he not plan to visit Taft, he added, “I don’t even know why we’re going to see Byers. We can’t sign a contract even if we want to – we can’t pay for it.”

“Let’s try Evey (Getty VP) one more time,” I suggested.

“OK,” he reluctantly agreed. That call drove him even deeper into depression. “Stu says if we insist n an answer today, it’s NO. I really think we should call off the NCAA meeting and save the plane fare,” he grumbled.

“We’ve come this far and we have our tickets,” I said. “Let’s play out the string.”

“Yeah, we might as well. See you in Kansas City.”

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February 9, 1979 – Desperation Closing In!

Plainville, Connecticut – desperation is closing in – but excitement about the Texas Show response keeps us thinking positive thoughts.

A phone call from JB saying that KS Sweet had decided to stop funding us defined our future…if we didn’t get an answer to our money crunch, i.e., if Getty didn’t move, we would miss next week’s payroll and be out of business just six days from now.

February 8, 1979 – The Texas Cable Show

San Antonio, Texas – Armed with a model of our proposed mobile remote truck, I was anxious to tell the gathering about our big plans and intended to read the newly minted NCAA Press Release in the last sixty seconds of my five-minute presentation as part of a “New Programming” panel.

During my five minutes I outlined what the cable industry could expect from us: a 24-hours ad-supported sports network produced with first-class production equipment such as the model shown on stage, and finished with the NCAA announcement.

Now that was a lot for some 800 Texans and the assembled national cable media to swallow from a Yankee. The message sent shockwaves through the room – at least to those listening.

I’ll never forget one gentleman from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, who greeted me as I left the stage. “I don’t know how you’re going to do all you said, but if you do only half of it, you’ll be the most successful service we have.” How prophetic!

I wasn’t exactly besieged by reporters after this announcement of (in our opinion) a gigantic breakthrough for the cable industry, but a few of the cable trade papers dd come and ask for more of the story. That was really a good thing as it turned out. We needed some sort of boost for RCA, the NCAA, D”Arcy, Getty, et al and just the beginning evidence of interest by the industry media was extremely helpful.

February 7, 1979 – On the Road to Texas Cable Show

Shawnee Mission, Kansas – Walter Byers was all smiles as he greeted us. He was clearly enthusiastic about the plans we had for NCAA programming and we dove right into more details.

Knowing we were enroute to the Annual Texas Cable Sow in San Antonio tomorrow, I just had to ask Walter again if we could say anything about our discussions. Last week’s “It might be possible,” answer was now improved to, “What’s it worth to you?”

Walter knew we had virtually no money and that without Getty, we would be out of business. this was the classic “chicken and egg” discussion: Walter wanted to confirm Getty’s investment before committing; and Getty wanted to confirm NCAA programming before committing.

After some banter about a check or wire transfer of cash he knew we didn’t have, Walter decided to make the first move. I asked, “What about a little something to read tomorrow…?” He replied, “OK, let’s see what we can put together.”

We spent some time drafting a vague release that said we “might” reach an agreement soon, but that was more than enough for us as we headed for San Antonio.

January 31, 1979 – Getting Serious with the NCAA in Shawnee Mission

Shawnee Mission, Kansas – No TV Committee this time. Walter Byers was very much in charge of the meeting attended by the NCAA’s Tom Hansen and Dennis Cryder, JB and me. That’s all. We spent virtually the entire day discussing possible scenarios for an arrangement.

Walter was extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities. He and I explored all sorts of subjects including scheduling. production, promotion, advertising, cable systems, subscriber charges and finances.

Late in the discussion I said, “The annual Texas Cable show is next week in San Antonio, Walter. It’s the third largest industry show each year. If we’re going o do something, that would be a great place to announce it. Is that possible?” I asked.

To my utter amazement and absolute delight, Walter hinted, “It might be. We have a lot of work to do, but it’s possible. Can you come back here next week on your way to the show?”

“Absolutely! I’ll even bring some stationary; then, if we agree on something, we can do a press release on the spot. Is Wednesday morning good for you?”

“Yes – we’ll see you then,” Walter concluded.

How about that!!!! It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already been a great week…Budeiser and the NCAA two days apart saying very strong and positive things..Advertising and content becoming a reality. The E. S. P. Network was gaining some very strong legs with each passing week.

January 29, 1979 – Budweiser – YES! $1,380,000 Largest Cable Ad Buy To Date

New York, New York – Our scheduled meeting with Gene Petrillo at D’Arcy was short and sweet…very sweet! Bob Chamberlain and I had driven to the city early Monday morning and delivered an update on our activities since we had met a week ago.

Gene was impressed – especially with the NCAA progress and then he startled us when he asked, “How does $1,380,000 sound for our 1/8 package?” (Bob had called him after our meeting last week and declined the $500,000 opening offer.)

How does it sound? “Great” we chorused.

Gene emphasized, “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and you have to get your house in order, but I want you to know we’re interested. Furthermore, if you have any interest from any other beer sponsors, please call me. I want that exclusive.”

Talk about a great way to start a week! Better yet – we were now in an even stronger position for our upcoming meeting with Walter Byers at NCAA Headquarters dy after tomorrow.

January 25, 1979 – Huge NCAA TV Committee Meeting!

Kansas City, Missouri – We arrived for our meeting on time at the Kansas City Airport Marriott and about a minute later, we found out who our competition for the NCAA cable contract was. Dennis Cryder informed us that ATC was making a presentation just 30 feet away inside the TV Committee meeting room. That nugget of knowledge really puzzled George Conner, JB Doherty and me, but it did explain why the ATC folks had been so cautious in their meeting with us in Denver last month.

Further, I couldn’t understand the NCAA’s dilemma. Since ATC was an MSO, obviously some other MSOs would find it difficult to do business with them should they be awarded an NCAA contract. However, the big difference was that ATC would only reach its own systems and try to entice competitors to do business with them. We treated all MSOs the same and they were all going to be our customers…even ATC.

We later discovered that they proposed to do 100 live nightly events…about 300 hours of programming a year. Our proposal was for hundreds of events and 8,760 hours a year using ATC and all of the other MSOs to distribute our service.

Clearly, the TV Committee was “comparing apples and oranges” which they quickly grasped as we made our presentation. We also subliminally suggested we had major financing close at hand when I introduced George by his formal title: Financial Manager – Real Estate and Forest Products Division of Getty Oil. Nothing more – nothing less! Best to let individual imaginations reach their own conclusions as to George’s presence.

JB and I reviewed our progress since the last meeting and then, at last, Walter Byers spoke his first words to us. Never moving in his chair, he lowered his head, peered over his glasses and chided, “Seems to me like you’re looking for a hunting license. We give you a contract, and you go out looking for money, advertisers and cable customers.”

JB answered, “Tha’s not quite right, Mr. Byers. However, we must have some sort of indication or committment to satisfy our investors and the cable industry that we mean business.”

Walter challenged, “Suppose we give you a committment, and you go out hunting and don’t come up with the money…how do we know we’ll get paid?”

My turn to answer! “You name the bank and we’ll put 50 percent of the agreed contract price in escrow on July 1.”

The room was silent. JB stared at the floor; George stared at JB and swears he turned chalk-white; the committee members stared t each other, but Walter and I never broke eye contact. “Well, if you can do that , it sounds pretty good to me. We’ll have to think about it.”

No more questions.

Once we reached the hotel lobby, JB recovered his voice and asked, “Why did you say that? We might not even be around by July.”

“What was I supposed to say? Besides, July is a long way off and we’ll have the money by then” (Ever the optimist)!

I actually was a little concerned that I might have given George something bad to report back to Getty, but before we had time to worry about too many things, Tom Hansen came looking for us and asked if we could come to the NCAA office next Wednesday…seems Walter wanted to talk some more without the formality of the TV Committee. We quickly agreed and George and I headed for Los Angeles, JB back to Philadelphia; and we were still alive.