ESPN, Inc.: 1983 in Review

AnnouncementsYear in Review

ESPN, Inc.: 1983 in Review

ESPN, which became the largest cable network in 1983, reached several other milestones during the past year.  A summary of 1983’s key developments follows:


  • ESPN institutes a new subscription fee to its affiliate systems — 10 cents a month per subscriber.
  • In a national survey conducted by Multichannel News, ESPN is recognized as the “Favorite Basic Service” of both operators and subscribers alike.


  • ESPN’s Greg Gumbel named “Outstanding Sports Personality” for the second consecutive year by the readers of On Cable magazine.


  • “Business Times” debuts on ESPN.
  • ESPN begins its coverage of the USFL, the first American pro football league on cable.
  • ESPN receives its first quarterly report from the A.C. Nielsen Co., which shows the network achieved a 2.0 average rating in prime time for the fourth quarter of 1982.
  • ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA Basketball Tournament averages a 4.3 rating.


  • ESPN’s fourth consecutive NFL Draft becomes the network’s longest sports telecast ever, with 10 hours of live coverage.


  • RSVP, the pay-per view joint venture of Getty Oil Company and ABC Video Enterprises, debuts with “The Crown Affair,” a world heavyweight boxing championship doubleheader.


  • ESPN presents the first-ever American sports telecast delivered in stereo with its coverage of the Denver vs. Oakland USFL game.
  • ESPN announces affiliate fee increase to 13 cents a month per subscriber effective January 1, 1984.


  • For the first time on American television, the Grand Final of Australian Rules Football is carried live.
  • ESPN presents live coverage of the dramatic final race of the America’s Cup competition.  The telecast receives a 2.4 average rating, including a 4.6 for the final quarter hour.  Both figures mark all-time highs for ESPN in non-prime time hours.
  • ESPN provides live coverage of the prestigious Marlboro Cup horse race.


  • ESPN passes WTBS to become the largest cable service, with 28.5 million subscriber households.
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken becomes the first fast-food company to make a significant sponsorship investment in cable television, reaching agreement with ESPN.


  • ESPN inaugurates an alternate programming feed for blackout situations.
  • ESPN telecasts the final three rounds of the Kapalua International Championship of Golf from Maui, Hawaii, the first professional golf tournament ever presented live in evening prime-time.
  • ESPN signs an agreement with the Professional Golf Association to provide live coverage of at least four PGA Tour events within the following year.
  • ESPN and Comp-U-Card International, Inc. announce the creation of the “ESPN Pro Shop,” a membership program providing a specialized package of shop-at-home products and services at substantial savings for ESPN viewers.
  • ESPN signs an agreement with United Satellite Communications Inc. (USCI) for the distribution of ESPN programming through direct broadcast satellite.



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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