Tag Archives: E.S.P._Network

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.

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January 9, 1979 – Satcom I – Transponder 7 Goes Live with Rutgers – UConn Basketball

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.

November 17, 1978 – UConn Basketball First Event on the E. S. P. Network

Storrs, Connecticut – Here we go!!! Peter Fox put together a pregame package. Lou Palmer was ready to go with his play-by-play. Guest announcer to work with Palmer was long-time WTIC Sports Director and Connecticut radio legend, Arnold Dean. Lou and Arnold were both fixtures on the Hartford 50,000 watt powerhouse station.

Scott and Ed worked right up to game time calling cable systems and asking them to carry the exhibition basketball game between UConn and Athletes in Action so that they could see what was coming to cable TV.. We have no idea how many systems might have actually carried the event, but we did discover that many system managers watched the feed in their office. Enough managers did show the game to produce a gratifying – albeit meager – viewer response.

At halftime, Arnold interviewed both John Toner and me. While viewers might have wondered about the glowing future we predicted for the E. S. P. Network in particular, and cable TV in general, we now know that we probably understated the potential.

It was only an exhibition game for the UConn Huskies and, in truth, it wasn’t much of a game. However, unknown to them at the time, a few systems and some viewers scattered around the USA witnessed the first images of what has become the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

October 11, 1978 – Introducing the concept to the NCAA

Shawnee Mission, Kansas – Armed with six shrink-wrapped presentations of our plan to make NCAA events the center piece of our 24/7 programming concept, I confidently walked through the door of the NCAA Headquarters. I was ushered into a conference room to meet with Tom Hansen and Dennis Cryder.

Turned out the meeting didn’t last long, but I did learn that the NCAA didn’t plunge into new ideas as fast as we did. As many of us do when we encounter some that has never been done before, Tom and Dennis were skeptical. They asked a lot of questions, but gave no indication that any of what I had presented would be endorsed by the NCAA anytime soon. As a matter of fact, Tom said that the concept” might” be presented to the membership fr approval at the National Convention in 1980 – 15 months away. Discouraging news at the moment, but at least the concept had been introduced.

Myriad meetings, phone calls and plane trips later the NCAA turned from skeptics to enthusiasts. Fortunately, the conversion didn’t take 15 months. Executive Director Walter Byers appeared at a TV Committee meeting in Kansas City on January 25, 1979 to ask some questions and start the ball rolling toward a contract that resulted in the first formal programming agreement between the NCAA and the E. S. P. Network (ESPN) on March 1, 1979.