Piscataway, New Jersey – Our meeting at RCA was a classic example of high-level corporate sparring. George Conner, representing Getty, was trying to find out just how far RCA would go with our transponder lease without a major financial commitment, while Dennis Elliott was poking around trying to discover just how real Getty’s interest in us was.
JB and I merely tried to keep the conversation alive with positive comments about our upcoming meetings with the NCAA and Budweiser, along with the continued positive MSO response.
George, JB and I left Dennis feeling that we still had some time, but that our days were definitely numbered. We needed a big money partner – and soon! With this newly perceived pressure from RCA, we left for the Philadelphia Airport and our flight to Kansas City and tomorrow’s meeting with the NCAA TV Committee.
Fog shrouded the airport and there was some doubt about our ability to find an outbound flight to make that scheduled NCAA meeting at the Kansas City Airport Marriott. Wouldn’t that ne something? On the threshold of a decision and fogged in…in Philadelphia, of all places.
After numerous ticket changes and hours later than scheduled, we finally did head for KC and the highly anticipated meeting.
New York, New York – Back to Gene Petrillo’s office! “I’ve talked to my people at the brewery,” he opened, “and we’d like to buy a franchise position for a half-million dollars.”
Bob and I looked at each other. We assumed Gene would come back with a counter offer, but not one-fifth of what we were asking. Bob said, “We’ll have to think about that one. Can we get back to you in a few days?”
“Sure. Let’s talk when you’re ready.”
Bob and I left Gene’s office and by the time we hit the street, we had decided that we would say no to the $500,000 counter proposal. How about that? Our company was all but broke, but we were brash enough to say a half-million dollar offer isn’t good enough.
Even though the offer was low, we now had “action” in several necessary arenas to allow us to launch the concept:
Financing – Getty hadn’t closed us out;
Advertising – Budweiser hadn’t said no;
Content- the NCAA was definitely interested (at least extremely curious);
Technology – we were set to meet with RCA Americom to keep our spot on the “bird” (Satcom1) alive;
and Subscribers – cable system operators were beginning to warm to this innovative, crazy, smart, outlandish, clever, ridiculous (you decide which) concept of sports 24 hours a day / seven days a week,
Busy days ahead!
New York, New York – Rutgers – UConn was behind us, we were scheduled to meet RCA and the NCAA back-to-back on the 24th and 25th and then Bob Chamberlain added a new dimension tp our schedule when he announced he had set up an appointment with Gene Petrillo at D’Arcy, McManus. “Gene is the top agency man for Budweiser and he wants to hear our story.”
So 33 years ago today we told our story again – this time to our very first advertising contact. Think about that for a second! Without any studio, long-term financing, programming or subscribers, and only eight employees, we were about to sit down with the agency for the biggest sports advertiser in the world – Anheuser Busch. Wow!
Gene asked, “Do you have any proposal for me?” We had nothing in writing, but said we would have something for him the next day. Bob did tell him the general terms of our proposal: “We propose to sell 1/8 sponsorships for $2,760,000 which will give you billboards and 30 second spots throughout the day.” We chatted for a few more minutes and Gene said he would call us later in the week. We never did get the proposal in writing to him before he called us back and asked us to meet with him on Monday (January 22).
The scheduled meeting added to the general euphoria building in Plainville. We presumed (correctly, as it turned out) that he wouldn’t have asked us to meet again unless he had some sort of a proposal (he did, but that’s for next week).
January was proving to be a very productive month!!!!
Bristol, Connecticut – From ESPN’s Mike Soltys: UConn won 69-67 in OT…last time schools played until Rutgers joined Big East…..
Storrs, Connecticut – We lit up our own transponder for the first time thirty-three years ago today. The event was a Rutgers at UConn basketball game that we delivered to all active Connecticut cable systems and several large systems around the country including Tulsa, Oklahoma and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Little did we know how this rivalry would blossom when both teams became charter members of the Big East Conference just a year later.
Televising the game was a thrill for everyone at the E. S. P. Network as we were still known, but the production had been in doubt since our Christmas week meeting in Chicago. Getty still hadn’t decided whether or not to invest; KS Sweet and Associates were straining to advance us only enough money to keep the doos open – all the while hoping that Getty would come on board and repay their advances which by now had passed $200,000; and we had no money to pay for the production truck and crew heading for Storrs to televise the game.
With anxiety levels rapidly rising, time running out, and the crew chief standing next to his padlocked production van until he had a certified check in hand, Scott called from Plainville to say he was on his way to Storrs with the necessary check. He had miraculously worked some magic with a local banker and managed an “instantly-funded” short-term loan pending additional funds from KS Sweet or a Getty investment. Clearly, that Branch Manager was an early ESPN fan.
Despite our Christmas week disappointment, we had “stayed-the-course” and maintained daily contact with cable systems, RCA, the NCAA and Getty. While we were waiting for Scott to arrive with the check, I returned a call from Tom Hansen at NCAA Headquarters in Shawnee Mission. I was stunned and delighted to hear him invite me to a Special Meeting of the NCAA TV Committee in Kansas City on January 25th. Things were looking up…assuming all of this news would somehow keep us funded by somebody.
What a day!!! The game went off without a hitch, we were headed back to the NCAA in two weeks, but stay tuned…you just know that we were not idly standing around for two weeks. January was just getting underway and the 24 hour sports concept really heated up as we moved forward from the UConn Fieldhouse.
Posted in Birth of ESPN, Excitement builds
Tagged Baton_Rouge_Louisiana, Big_East_Conference, E.S.P._Network, Getty, KS_Sweet, NCAA, NCAA_TV_Committee, Rutgers, Tom_Hansen, Tulsa_Oklahoma, UConn
O’Hare Hilton, Chicago, Illinois – The “someone” George wanted us to meet was Dr. John Gartley of the Northwestern School of Communications. John was very correct and proper in his questioning of JB and me, but frankly, since technology had been moving so rapidly and he was in an academic, rather than a business environment, his information was quite out of date.
We later discovered the real reason for the meeting was not so much to gather information, but to let George meet us and do a first-hand, face-to-face evaluation of JB and me. Getty was also interested in Dr. Gartley’s personal evaluation of us.
For our part, we were pleased to finally meet the face that went with the phone voice we had gotten to know so well during the past three weeks. George’s cherubic visage combined with his straightforward, no-nonsense approach to business left us in a quandary. On the one hand, he was friendly and enthusiastic, while on the other, he cautioned us not to expect too much from Getty too soon.
We found out exactly what he meant the next day when JB called Evey. Evey’s response to the inquiring call was, “If you have to have an answer today, it’s ‘No.’ Can’t K. S. Sweet fund this project for a little longer?”
So that’s it. Our deadline arrived and we had no financial committment. The New Year’s weekend had arrived and we couldn’t do a thing, except go to a meeting in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, with JB and Tom Cushman on Tuesday, January 2, 1979 to either wind up affairs or (hopefully) stretch just a little longer to see what Getty would do.
That, my friends, was one LONG weekend. The Bowl games didn’t do much for us on New Year’s Day 1979!