Tag Archives: Bob_Ronstrom

March 9, 1979 – NCAA Contract Signing – Linchpin of E.S.P. Network Success!

Shawnee Mission, Kansas – Just two days short of five months since being introduced to the E.S.P. Network concept, Walter Byers, Executive Director of the NCAA, signed a two-year contract for all NCAA Championship events not committed to other networks. The real benefit to our tiny, but burgeoning network was the credibility factor. It was also a pioneering day for the NCAA as it once again led its member institutions into unexplored television territory.

The actual signing was something of an anticlimax since all of the terms had been approved by March 1. In fact, the contract Walter and I signed on March 9, 1979, was actually dated March 1st. With the signing of he contract many things started moving much more rapidly. In anticipation of the signing, Getty had
assigned Finance Manager George Conner to Bristol (he actually arrived on March 5th). Cable MSO’s not only called with congratulations, but intensified their interest in being among the first to deliver the network to their subscribers, The formal contract with Anheuser Busch followed shortly after the announcement and , of course, RCA Americaom was delighted that we had completed what we had told them months earlier.

It was the finish line of a nine month marathon. From our first thoughts of the network in June 1978 to the March 1st date of the NCAA contract, only nine months had passed. While it seemed at times agonizingly slow to us, it was, in fact, remarkably fast when considering the major companies that had to be courted and who weren’t used to moving so quickly on major commitments.

Looking back, the truly amazing feat was that we arrived at this signing day with a miniscule staff. Starting with just three people in June (Scott Rasmussen, Ed Eagan and me), we added three more in November (Lou Palmer, Peter Fox and Bob Ronstrom) who were joined by Bob Chamberlain and Bob Bray at the end of December. The pace exhausted all of us at one point or another throughout the saga, but our belief in success never wavered. Ultimately, with just eight people, and growing contributions and encouragement from the cable industry, the media, and budding fans, the amazing miracle that is ESPN today was born.

For the record: ESPN and the NCAA recently signed a contract that will extend coverage that began with the 1979-80 school year through at least 2023-24…forty-four years of continuous of coverage launched when the very first contract was executed 33 years ago today.

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February 16, 1979 – Getty Starts “Moving Money” Process

Los Angeles, California – Wheels up at 8:00 AM from Midland-Odessa and back to Burbank. Stu and I went directly to his Getty office as soon as we arrived to meet again with George Conner and Max Gardner We were out of money and had a payroll due. Bob Ronstrom had done that he could back in Bristol, but Stu was not quite ready to write a check.

Solving the immediate crisis was critical to our employees and to JB. We had come to far to fail. Evey finally asked JB to advance the payroll and agreed to return all KS Sweet advances the following week. Crisis averted, but not without a lot of heartburn.

I called Dennis Cryder at the NCAA office to share the good news and to confirm our Monday meeting to continue contract discussions.

It had been quite a week: Tuesday in Cincinnati, Wednesday in Shawnee Mission, Thursday to Los Angeles and on to Midland-Odessa, back to Los Angeles on Friday and finally back to Hartford on Saturday. The roller-coaster of emotional highs and lows had never before been so dramatic, but we now had all the pieces in place.

Next up: More contract meetings with the NCAA in Shawnee Mission on Monday.

November 15, 1978 – Network staff doubles

Plainville, Connecticut – With the “demo events” events on the immediate horizon (just 2 days away), Lou Palmer, who carried the title of Director of Programming, and Peter Fox, our first Executive Producer, officially went on the payroll November 15. Employee # 6, Bob Ronstrom, wasn’t officially on the payroll until December 1, 1978, but he was already working with Scott and JB Doherty putting budgets and projections together.

Lou and Peter took charge of production details for our “demo weekend” and even with the very short time available, they pulled it off as you’ll see in future posts.

Ed was keeping the Bristol Redevelopment Authority up to date as well as recruiting cable systems to carry our upcoming events.

I was calling NCAA TV Committee members and by the weekend, all six of us were immersed in the UConn “demo events.”