Through The Years: Innovation Brings Success

Sep 6, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Alan Hill


ESPN launches Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. (ET) with the premiere of “SportsCenter.” It is available in 1.4 million homes and other venues.


ESPN introduces the electronic cut-in format during its coverage of the NCAA Tournament games.


The network begins international distribution of its programming.


ABC acquires ESPN from Texaco/Getty Oil. Later it sells a 20 percent stake to Nabisco, which in turn sells its share to the Hearst Corp.


The ESPN Sports Update, a system for graphically providing scores while the action continues on-screen, is introduced.


The network airs the first telecast of the America’s Cup from Australia.

The NFL awards ESPN football’s first cable contract, granting TV rights to one game per week for the last eight weeks of the pro football season.

Sportscaster Dick Vitale promises to stand on his head if Austin Peay upsets Illinois in the NCAA Tournament. Later that evening, Mr. Vitale good-naturedly keeps his promise.

The Chicago Bears-Minnesota Vikings NFL game earns a 14.4 rating, the highest in ESPN history.


ESPN International debuts in Central America and South America. Programming includes NFL and NBA games, European soccer and the PGA Tour.


Major League Baseball games begin airing on ESPN.


ESPN Radio is launched, with programming including many of the baseball, football and basketball games on the TV networks. Seven hundred affiliates ultimately sign on.


Sister network ESPN2 launches in 10 million homes.

The annual ESPY Awards ceremonies begin. On the premiere telecast, Jim Valvano announces that he and ESPN will establish The V Foundation for Cancer Research. Weeks later Mr. Valvano succumbs to the disease.


SportsTicker becomes part of the ESPN family of businesses.

ESPN unveils the continuous score box during coverage of World Cup Soccer. The score box becomes part of baseball coverage the following year.


ESPNet-now ESPN.com-is created, offering up-to-the-minute sports news, features and analysis. It eventually spawns the ESPN Insider subscription service.

The Extreme Games- later called the X Games-make their debut, televised from locations in Newport and Providence, R.I.


The Walt Disney Co. acquires CapCities/ABC, parent company of ESPN.

ESPNews launches as the world’s only 24/7 sports news network.


The Winter X Games debut from Big Bear Lake, Calif.

ESPN acquires the 6,500-subscriber, Ada, Okla.-based Classic Sports Network and renames it ESPN Classic.


ESPN The Magazine begins publication.

The company’s first sports-themed restaurant and entertainment center, ESPN Zone, opens in Baltimore.


At the fifth annual X Games, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk completes the first “900”-21/2 twists in the air. It is called the greatest achievement in alternative sports history.


ESPN2 reaches 75 million homes, the fastest growth of any cable network in TV history.

BASS Inc., the largest fishing organization in the world, becomes an ESPN subsidiary.

ESPN Today, the first interactive sports channel, launches.

ESPN Broadband launches.

ESPN Outdoors is created to coordinate companywide, multimedia efforts in the genre, focusing on fishing and outdoor games.

An agreement with the NCAA brings every Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament to ESPN for the next 11 years.

ESPN’s “K Zone” debuts on “Sunday Night Baseball.” It’s a computerized strike zone system for analyzing pitches and, for the first time, outlining the strike zone’s boundaries.


Reaching an agreement with the NBA, ESPN becomes the first TV network in history to offer all four major professional sports games-football, baseball, hockey and basketball.

“A Season on the Brink,” ESPN Original Entertainment’s first made-for-television movie, premieres.

“Beg, Borrow and Deal,” a sports reality game show, debuts.

The 25,000th installment of “SportsCenter” is televised Aug. 25.


ESPN HD, a high-definition simulcast service, launches.

“Playmakers,” the network’s first scripted drama series, premieres.

ESPN2 premieres “Cold Pizza,” the first sports-themed early-morning lifestyle show.


ESPN Deportes, broadcasting in Spanish, expands from Sunday night telecasts into a 24/7 network.

The network’s Digital Center comes online as the high-tech hub from which ESPN’s programming for all platforms will emanate in the future.

ESPN, now seen in about 250 million homes worldwide, celebrates its 25th anniversary.