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

It was 33 years at ESPN for me as of November 2019 (the only job I’ve ever had) after joining merely to help with the America’s Cup for three months at a robust $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 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 and Indy 500; Wimbledon (16 times and counting) and the “other Bristol,” the one with a race track in Tennessee. These days, in addition to overseeing the Fan Relations, Archives and, my main areas are tennis, ratings, and corporate communications documents, including ESPN’s history and growth.
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