New York, NY – Two of the biggest MSOs – Teleprompter and Warner – are located here. As you might expect it’s pretty tough to sell anything to Manhattanites without facts. The meetings went well, but I received nowhere near the “quasi-commitments” I had from other systems in the past several days.
Meeting at their midtown corporate headquarters, I answered a lot of questions at both companies. In the end, neither one was very encouraging and merely asked to be kept informed. Oh well, can’t win ’em all!
I called Tom Hansen at the NCAA and summarized the results of my two weeks of meetings and he was pleased, but then asked about financing.
“Getty is working very closely with us,” I truthfully responded. “One of their problems is the length of time it will take to get a committment from the NCAA.”
“I can understand that,” he said. “I don’t know if we can speed things up, but I’ll tell Walter of your progress with the systems and we’ll talk about it in San Francisco.” (at the NCAA National Convention scheduled in early January 1979). Please keep me up to date with developments.”
Time for my George Conner call. I brought him up to date. “We’ve got customers if we can ever get on the air!” “Great! What are you doing next Wednesday or Thursday? I’d like to meet you and JB in Chicago and have you talk t someone.” (Whatever happened to the ‘quiet’ week between Christmas and New Year’s)?
“Tell me when and where and I’ll be there,” I quickly replied. We settled on 10:00 AM, Thursday, December 28 at the O’Hare Hilton.
Time for the short flight to Connecticut and home for the Christmas holidays. Even though the December 31st deadline was closing in, I had the feeling that something positive would happen to keep us alive. As I walked into the office, I discovered that everyone shared the positive feeling. I chuckled as I noticed the work of the troops in Plainville. They had scrawled an impromptu “Potential Subscriber Scoreboard” on a convenient window. As Ed Eagan and I called the office each day with updates on our meetings, they looked up the potential subscribers available in each system and updated their “Scoreboard.” It wouldn’t pay the bills but it made us feel good.
Posted in Birth of ESPN, Excitement builds
Tagged Ed_Eagan, George_Conner, Getty Plainville, JB, NCAA, O'Hare_Hilton, Plainville, Teleprompter, Tom_Hansen, Warner
Norfolk, Virginia – Had an absolutely great meeting with some fine gentlemen here. Dick Roberts, President of TeleCable, and Gordon (Red) Herring, Vice President, Operations, were gracious hosts with soft, unhurried southern drawls.
They received our plan well. It’s amazing how fast the buzz about “That all sports network” was now moving through the industry and definitely improving our reception with the cable systems. Of course, everyone had a slightly different version of what we had planned, but they had certainly heard of us.
Dick and Red agreed to evaluate our project and determine where sports would fit in their 1979 plans as they added programming to their upgrade systems.
Certainly this was the kind of news that George Conner wanted to hear. I called Getty Headquarters as soon as I left TeleCable. Even though at this point we had not met, a bond was building between George and me…a bond that has blossomed into a strong friendship that is alive and well to this very day.
Approaching nearly three weeks on the road with many stressful and very significant meetings, I was mentally and physically weary. However, there was one more stop with two more meetings remaining before I could return to Connecticut and sleep in my own bed.
Next stop New York City.
Austin, Texas – Another city and another cable system to sell on the ’round the clock – 24/7 sports network. Upon landing, I checked with our office in Connecticut and found that George Conner wanted me to call ASAP.
I picked up the rental car and stopped at the nearest pay phone (yep, no cell phones then – just a pocket full of quarters for the nearest phone booth). I brought George up to date and on a hunch called Community Properties, Inc. (CPI) to confirm that I had arrived and would see Greg Liptak as scheduled.
Imagine my surprise when his secretary told me he was out of town and wouldn’t be back for the rest of the day. She added that she hoped this wouldn’t inconvenience me too much.
I guess it just depends on your interpretation of inconvenience. I had flown from Denver to Dallas to Austin and rented a car which I now returned with just four miles used to the car rental agency and flew back to Dallas. Obviously the stop in Austin hadn’t gone very well.
I spent the weekend at a Dallas/Fort Worth airport hotel wondering what Monday’s meeting with the President of Sammons Communications would bring.
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Los Angeles, California – My detour through Los Angeles on my way to Kansas City had me sitting in Stuart Evey’s 18th floor office at 9:00AM. The first thing Evey did was introduce me to Wendell Niles, “A movie producer here in Hollywood.” Niles admitted he didn’t know much of anything about cable television. I didn’t quite get the reason he was there, but nevertheless, plunged in with my, by now, well rehearsed pitch.
For thirty minutes or so I recounted what had transpired since June and concluded by asking for $10 million. Not only did I ask, but I also pointed out that we needed an answer by December 31st. I wasn’t immediately dismissed and Evey said it would take longer than that to analyze the potential of our idea, but he, “…was interested in learning more about the idea.”
A major breakthrough!!! No previous potential investor had shown even this faint flicker of interest. Little did I know as I left for LAX that Evey had more than “a faint flicker of interest.” Unknown to me, almost before I reached the ground floor and walked off the elevator, he was on the phone to his financial manager, George Conner, and…
I’ll let George tell you: “My involvement (in ESPN) began about one minute after Bill left Evey’s office. Evey called and said he had an investment opportunity for me to look at. After I read through the proposal for non-stop sports on cable television, I told Evey the proposal looked interesting enough for us to proceed with further evaluation”
I didn’t know until years later, but all of this happened very quickly while I was on my way to LAX to head for my original destination on this trip – the NCAA TV Committee meeting in Kansas City scheduled for tomorrow. Even without the knowledge of Evey’s obvious interest, I was very positive in my “Here’s what happened” phone call to JB Doherty back in King of Prussia, PA.
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