Tag Archives: Tom_Hansen

February 14, 1979 – NCAA Contract Drafting and Getty Says “Almost Yes”

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.