Tag Archives: NCAA_TV_Committee

January 25, 1979 – Huge NCAA TV Committee Meeting!

Kansas City, Missouri – We arrived for our meeting on time at the Kansas City Airport Marriott and about a minute later, we found out who our competition for the NCAA cable contract was. Dennis Cryder informed us that ATC was making a presentation just 30 feet away inside the TV Committee meeting room. That nugget of knowledge really puzzled George Conner, JB Doherty and me, but it did explain why the ATC folks had been so cautious in their meeting with us in Denver last month.

Further, I couldn’t understand the NCAA’s dilemma. Since ATC was an MSO, obviously some other MSOs would find it difficult to do business with them should they be awarded an NCAA contract. However, the big difference was that ATC would only reach its own systems and try to entice competitors to do business with them. We treated all MSOs the same and they were all going to be our customers…even ATC.

We later discovered that they proposed to do 100 live nightly events…about 300 hours of programming a year. Our proposal was for hundreds of events and 8,760 hours a year using ATC and all of the other MSOs to distribute our service.

Clearly, the TV Committee was “comparing apples and oranges” which they quickly grasped as we made our presentation. We also subliminally suggested we had major financing close at hand when I introduced George by his formal title: Financial Manager – Real Estate and Forest Products Division of Getty Oil. Nothing more – nothing less! Best to let individual imaginations reach their own conclusions as to George’s presence.

JB and I reviewed our progress since the last meeting and then, at last, Walter Byers spoke his first words to us. Never moving in his chair, he lowered his head, peered over his glasses and chided, “Seems to me like you’re looking for a hunting license. We give you a contract, and you go out looking for money, advertisers and cable customers.”

JB answered, “Tha’s not quite right, Mr. Byers. However, we must have some sort of indication or committment to satisfy our investors and the cable industry that we mean business.”

Walter challenged, “Suppose we give you a committment, and you go out hunting and don’t come up with the money…how do we know we’ll get paid?”

My turn to answer! “You name the bank and we’ll put 50 percent of the agreed contract price in escrow on July 1.”

The room was silent. JB stared at the floor; George stared at JB and swears he turned chalk-white; the committee members stared t each other, but Walter and I never broke eye contact. “Well, if you can do that , it sounds pretty good to me. We’ll have to think about it.”

No more questions.

Once we reached the hotel lobby, JB recovered his voice and asked, “Why did you say that? We might not even be around by July.”

“What was I supposed to say? Besides, July is a long way off and we’ll have the money by then” (Ever the optimist)!

I actually was a little concerned that I might have given George something bad to report back to Getty, but before we had time to worry about too many things, Tom Hansen came looking for us and asked if we could come to the NCAA office next Wednesday…seems Walter wanted to talk some more without the formality of the TV Committee. We quickly agreed and George and I headed for Los Angeles, JB back to Philadelphia; and we were still alive.

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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 19 – A Strong Yes and a Really – Really Not Interested

Atlanta, Georgia – Just one week ago, I was in Kansas City introducing our concept to the NCAA TV Committee. Seven days,  five cities and eight cable system presentations later, I was in and out of Atlanta in four hours or so with some more good news from a major player in the cable industry – Cox Communications.

My two visits here couldn’t have been moe different. Ernie Olsen, Vice President at giant Cox Cable, was positive, enthusiastic and the first guy who really seemed to believe we had a shot at making the whole thing work. That was the good news.

John Janos at Rollins Cable, an MSO more interested in electronic gadgetry than in new programming and marketing, was late for our meeting and offered no encouragement whatsoever. After waiting 30 minutes in his tiny office, I felt I received his seemingly-standard, “We’re not interested in anything new” response and left.

Ever the optimist, I decided Ernie was 100% on target, and John wasn’t smart enough to recognize a good thing when he saw it. Clearly, that opinion reflected our ever-growing confidence in our idea.

I left for Norfolk and my next scheduled meeting in a very good mood.

Check prior posts for more “Early ESPN” history.

December 14, 1978 – One Yes and One “It won’t work”

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.

December 13, 1978 – Selling Cable TV’s Corporate Leaders

Denver, Colorado – I was scheduled to visit ten major system headquarters  in ten days. Ed Eagan was on a parallel path visiting a dozen medium-sized MSOs and independents. We had to get a sense of what the industry decision makers thought of our 24/7 sports idea…and fast – money to continue was hanging on the reactions of these twenty plus systems.

Our plan in Denver was to talk to as many people at high levels as possible and evaluate their reactions so that we could formulate a plan that worked for all systems. Te first stop at ATC – American Telecommunications was strange. (We eventually found out the cause of that feeling in Kansas City at the NCAA TV Committee meeting on January 25).

ATC was definitely not a good start for the trip and the second stop, Daniels and Associates, was even worse. Tom Johnson and Jean O’Grady listened to our pitch with barely concealed humor. Years later, they both told me that after JB and I left, they enjoyed a good laugh, never expecting to see or hear from us again.

The responses were clearly not what we needed…definitely not a good beginning to a long road trip. JB and I decided we had to have a drastic change in our offering. Just ten days ago, United cable had suggested (with tongue in cheek) that we become, “the industry’s first totally ad-supported network.” Since no one seemed interested in our “penny-a-day” theory, we decided on the spot to become primarily ad-supported along with a greatly reduced monthly subscriber fee.

That was the plan as JB left for he airport. I was on my own to introduce our “newest-greatest” plan starting the next morning back at the same place I had introduced the original idea just ten days ago – United Cable.

From a “laying the foundation” perspective, the month of December 1978 was easily the most active and exciting. We had secured the transponder is September, but had made little progress on financing, programming and customers as I left for Denver on December 4th. By December 28th, everything was in motion as you’ll read in the days ahead.

The complete story (paperback edition) is available with a 25% discount at http://espnfounder.com/sjr_discount2011.htm. A great Christmas gift for the ESPN fan in your life.

December 12, 1978 – First Meeting With NCAA TV Committee

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.