ESPN, Inc.: 1981 in Review

AnnouncementsYear in Review

ESPN, Inc.: 1981 in Review

ESPN Concludes Banner Year For Growth

ESPN, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, concluded another highly successful year in the affiliate marketing area by adding 435,307 new subscriber households and 137 new affiliate cable systems in December, leaving The Total Sports Network with a total of 13,609,478 subscribers and 3,033 affiliates at the end of 1981.

During the year just completed, ESPN added 6,280,156 subscribers to an initial base of 7,329,322 households at the start of 1981, an 86% jump.  In addition, 1,735 systems were added to the 1,298 who were ESPN affiliates a year ago, an increase of 134%.

ESPN added an average of 523,346 new subscriber homes and 145 new cable affiliates each month during 1981.

The current figures give The Total Sports Network penetration into 16.7% of U.S. television households and 64.3% of U. S. Cable homes after only 28 months of regular service.  ESPN now penetrates 200 of the 205 Nielsen DMAs (Designated Market Areas) as well.

In 1981, the network eclipsed the one million mark in homes reached in New York City, the nation’s largest market, and is now received by more than 250,000 households in eight DMAs.  They are (in order):  New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco-Oakland, San Diego, Hartford-New Haven, Los Angeles-Palm Springs, Houston and Seattle-Tacoma.

ESPN has six Regional Marketing offices across the country, located in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and New York, which recruit and service cable affiliates.  Two Local Ad Sales Consultants work with affiliate systems to establish and operate successful local advertising sales efforts.

In 1981, ESPN’s programming lineup, the most extensive and diverse sports schedule in the history of television, added a number of key acquisitions, including the network’s first exclusive bowl game — the 1982 Senior Bowl, its first NASCAR Grand National races and a contract with the NASL to televise 20 games.  ESPN also televised its first live event from overseas, the IAAF World Cup Track and Field championship from Rome, Italy.

The Total Sports Network, a subsidiary of the Getty Oil Company, is the largest advertiser-supported, exclusively cable-delivered network in America.



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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