ESPN, Inc.: 1980 in Review

AnnouncementsYear in Review

ESPN, Inc.: 1980 in Review

Expanded Programming, Household Growth Highlight ESPN’s First Full Year

In 1980, the first full year for the The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, ESPN added to its diverse programming lineup — including the start of a non-stop, 24-hours-a-day schedule September 1.  The Total Sports Network also enjoyed tremendous growth every month in the subscriber count, nearly doubling to 7,329,000 households via 1,100 affiliates.

The Bristol, Conn.-based all-sports network was launched September 7, 1979 in 1.4 million homes and is a subsidiary of the Getty Oil Company.

On the advertising front, ESPN opened a New York sales office to accommodate the growing interest in the network’s all-sports format.  On October 27, Anheuser-Busch signed a five-year, $25 million dollar advertising contract, labeled “the largest sponsorship commitment in the history of America’s budding cable television industry.”  New advertisers included DuPont, Mobil, Home Box Office and Ace Hardware.

The network’s programming lineup featured many “firsts”:  extensive coverage of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (23 games) as part of 20 NCAA Championships during the “March of Champions,” live coverage of the NFL Draft, coverage of the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and a contract to televise 52 USTTA (table tennis) events in 1980-81.  Also, weekly professional boxing returned to television with the debut of Top Rank Boxing April 10.

ESPN’s programming in 1980 also featured greatly expanded offerings:  66 college football games, 130 college basketball contests planned for 1980-81, 35 NHL games and longer, one-hour editions of SportsCenter, the network’s flagship sports news program, every weeknight at 7 p.m.

Other top events covered in 1980 included Canadian Football League games including the Grey Cup championship, WCT Tennis, the Bean Pot NCAA Hockey Tournament, world class indoor track meets, NASL indoor soccer, F.A. Cup soccer, USAC Sprint and Midget car racing, U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Trials, PBA bowling, horseshow jumping and karate.

At ESPN Plaza in Bristol, Conn., the company broke ground on a three-story, 42,500-square foot administration center.



Dave Nagle

As I write this on 11-11-21, it's now 35 years for me at ESPN, the only real job I’ve ever had. I joined merely to help with the upcoming America’s Cup in Australia. I was told it would be for three months at all of $5.50 per hour. I like to say I simply kept showing up. I’ve worked on almost every sport, plus answered viewer calls and letters (people used to write!), given tours, written the company newsletter and once drove NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon to the local airport. My travels have been varied…I’ve been to Martinsville, Darlington, Indy and Super Bowls; the America’s Cup (all 3) in San Diego and College GameDay in the sport’s meccas such as Eugene, Auburn, Lubbock, Stillwater and more; the NBA Finals, Wimbledon (16 times and counting) and the “other Bristol,” the one with a race track in Tennessee. These days, my main areas are tennis, UFC, boxing, network-wide ratings (by month/quarter/year), and corporate communications documents, including fact sheets, chronologies, lists and nearly 35 of the Year in Review press releases. UPDATE EXACTLY ONE YEAR LATER: Today, November 11, 2022, I am retiring from ESPN -- 36 years to the day I began. As I ride off into the sunset – top down and E Street Radio blaring – I do so with so many wonderful memories, proud of my contributions and a heart full of gratitude for the opportunity. 
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