Tag Archives: NCAA

January 15, 1979 – First meeting with Anheuser Busch (Budweiser) Agency

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!!!!

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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.

December 22, 1978 – Last Stop – 2 Big MSOs

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.

December 11, 1978 – Asking Getty Oil for $10,000,000

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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December 4, 1978 – Introducing The Plan In Denver

Denver, Colorado – As the calander turned to December discussions with cable operators, the NCAA and potential investors stacked up before the Christmas holiday break.

On this day 33 years ago, I left Hartford’s Bradley Field for a one day round trip to Denver to introduce our initial proposal to Gene Schneider, President of United Cable. He was an industry pioneer in the 1950’s and was known to be the first to sign for, promote and sell the latest idea. (Our Plainville office was in his United Cable office as noted earlier).

With two of his Regional Vice Presidents sitting in to hear wht I had to say I plunged in. “We plan to deliver a 24-hour sports service to the cable industry for just a penny a day,” I announced enthusiastically. Not an eye even flickered. Here I had jsut introduced this spectacular idea and no one else at the table was even remotely excited.

At that point I heard the first of what would be many, “It’ll never work at that price,” comments among other doubts. After a few more minutes of “why it won’t work” pronouncements, Schneider said other new services (I might add that none of them proposed 24 hour service)  were asking for a nickel or a dime and we won’t pay them, and you’re asking for 30 cents a month. It just won’t work on that basis.”

After an hour of being told all the reasons our plan would not work, I promised to rethink the proposed plan and return later in the month. Then it was off to the airport and back to Hartford. Reworking the proposal would be done, but I was already looking ahead to NCAA and investor meetings next week. There would be much work done before Christmas arrived.

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.”

October 16, 1978 – John Toner, UConn and “Demo events”

Storrs, Connecticut – The opening minute of my convesation with John Toner was illuminating. Following a question about my impression of the NCAA meeting, John said, “…I’ve talked to Tom (Hansen) and they like your idea. Walter (Byers) is interested, but he has his doubts about your ability to pull it off.” He went on to say we should follow Tom’s advice about mailing details to all of the TV Committee members  and then do the follow up calls. I said, “They’re already in the mail.”

Next we turned to the UConn program that we had been discussing before we ever thought of going to Shawnee Mission. I suggested that the proposed UConn schedule would be incorporated into whatever arrangement we ultimately made with the NCAA. Toner agreed and we moved on to a very pressing need for our fledgling network.

We desperately needed to show the world what we had in mind for our all sports network – in other words we needed to produce some live games from a college campus and send them to cable systems around the country. Ideally, our “demo events” would be back-to-back on the same day or on consecutive days to give both the NCAA and cable operators a brief look at the concept. We had to produce something before we could move forward.

“Will you allow us to originate a couple of games before the end of the year?” I asked.

“What did you have in mind?”

“We’d like to combine a basketball game with one other event, either on the same day or on consecutive days.”

“Would you consider soccer?”

“Certainly” I answered, “but the season is almost over.”

“You’re right, but we will be hosting an ECAC playoff game on Saturday morning, November 18, and we do have a basketball game the night before.”

“Sounds perfect,” I said, “can we count on doing those two games?”

“Yes, I think you can. I’ll let you know tomorrow, but I don’t anticipate any problems.”

We had our “demo events” and on Friday night, November 17, 1978, the E. S. P. Network sent the UConn vs. Athletes in Action basketball game to any cable system capable of receiving a signal from RCA Satcom 1. The next morning we did indeed do the ECAC soccer playoff game.