Shawnee Mission, Kansas – What a great feeling walking into NCAA Headquarters today. The decision to move forward and have attorneys start drafting an agreement was almost anticlimactic. I was sitting in a contract meeting to acquire the most significant programming available and it was happening just nine months after being fired by the Whalers…and only four and a half months after om Hansen had told us that our idea could not be presented until the January 1980 NCAA Convention. Writing this today I still find it remarkable that all of the pieces came together so quickly – although at the time desperation made it all feel agonizingly slow.
Happy as I was to be sitting with attorneys for both sides actually talking contract language, more good news arrived about ninety minutes later. Walter’s assistant came in and told me I had a phone call waiting. The caller turned out to be George Conner and his message set the stage for the rest of the day. He said that Getty’s strategy committee had given the go-ahead for investing in our network. He asked if I could fly to Los Angeles after our meeting with the NCAA and then added, “Tentatively, I’d say congratulations are in order.” Wow!
As I returned to the meeting, Walter asked, “Good news?” JB was curious too. I filled them in on the conversation with George. Needless to say from that point forward the meeting proceeded with a vibrant new feeling of confidence on both sides.
I couldn’t wait for the meeting to end and get outside – jump n the air and click my heels. What a Valentine’s Day! Ninety minutes and a half continent apart, two “yeses” propelled us to new heights of happiness when less than 24 hours earlier JB didn’t even want to make the trip. Ours was definitely not a business for the faint-hearted.
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.
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.
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!
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
Denver, Colorado – What a day! Back to United Cable headquarters with our new concept of becoming the cable industry’s first ad-supported network. Gene Schneider and his Regional Managers, Bob Ball and Harvey Boyd, could hardly believe their ears. What they had mentioned tongue in cheek just ten days earlier was now roughly our new plan.
I updated them on my travels of the last ten days – Getty, NCAA, etc. – and they were suddenly enthusiastic. The whole plan was on a single sheet of paper that carried only eleven typewritten lines. “If you pull this off, I want to be your first affiliate,” Schneider said. Now THAT was really good news.
Next stop was just around the corner to TCI – Telecommunications, Inc. – Graham Moore was Vice President of Programming for this huge MSO. He listened attentively and said, “I like your idea very much. This is something TCI will be interested in, but frankly, I don’t see how you can pull it off. I wish you well, but I don’t see how you can do it.”
Talk about emotional highs and lows. Coming on the heels of the positive United Cable visit, Graham’s comments ended this particular Denver visit on a down note.
Summing up the two days in Denver was a bit sobering: One strange visit (ATC); One disbelieving visit to the point of barely concealed smiles (Daniels); One “I want to be our first customer;” and One, “You’ll never pull it off.” Not a promising beginning, but it was time to head for the airport again – destination, Austin, Texas to get acquainted with CPI – Community Properties, Inc.
The entire whirlwind month of December is detailed in the book: Sport Junkies Rejoice – The Birth of ESPN. Great Christmas gift for you or for any ESPN fan on your list. You’ll save 25% at http://espnfounder.com/sjr_discount2011.htm.
Posted in Excitement builds
Tagged ATC, Bob_Ball, CPI, Daniels, Gene_Schneider, Graham_Moore, Harvey_Boyd, JB, NCAA_TV_Committee, TCI, United_Cable
Kansas City, Missouri – Today was our chance to “meet the boys” of the NCAA TV Committee. We met several committee members on the way into the meeting as they were enjoying a coffee break prior to our presentation at 9:00AM.
We cued up our demonstration tape – a five-minute visual explanation of several points of our proposal along with a 3′ x 4′ map of the United States showing the distribution of current cable systems and we were ready to go. As I glanced around the room I was disappointed to note that Walter Byers was nowhere in sight.
In his gracious manner, Bo introduced JB and me to the committee members and to my pleasant surprise, I noticed that Mr. Byers had arrived and taken the empty chair next to the legendary Texas football coach Darrel Royal. Both sides of the rectangular meeting setup were full, But directly in front of me sat Byers and Royal.
Listening to Bo’s introduction, I must admit that I was momentarily intimidated by the sight of he two powerful men facing me. Stern, sincere Royal, arms folded across his chest, studied us with a non-committal look. Even more imposing, the fabled NCAA czar, Byers, with his shock of white hair and equally impassive expression, waited for my presentation. Bo concluded his intro and we were on.
I told the same story I had told the day before at Getty and essentially told all these NCAA heavyweights what a great new thing we were planning for them. The excitement and enthusiasm were all one way. The reception of the presentation was polite and courteous with a few general questions and it was over. It should be be noted that neither Byers or Royal said a word…matter of fact their expressions barely changed throughout the presentation.
That was it. Bo thanked us and from his comments and some of the questions asked, we had an idea that we would be back for another meeting. Bo repeated his earlier comment about having a great idea and said Tom Hansen would be in touch. That ended the morning and JB and I were off to Denver to talk to the biggest cable TV Multiple System Operators (MSOs).
Wow…think about this: Monday at Getty to talk money; Tuesday with the NCAA TV Committee to talk programming; and Wednesday with cable TV’s corporate elite to talk customers.
Read the full story of the race to create ESPN at http://espnfounder.com/sjr_discount2011.htm. It’s a great holiday gift for the ESPN fans in your life.