ESPN, Inc.: 1985 in Review

AnnouncementsYear in Review

ESPN, Inc.: 1985 in Review


ESPN, America’s largest cable network, completed several major programming acquisitions in 1985 and, for the first year, became profitable on an operating basis.

ESPN President and Chief Executive Officer J. William Grimes said, “In 1985, we further enhanced our reputation as THE network for sports coverage in auto racing, college basketball, golf, hockey and tennis.  And, just this month, we announced a horse racing series for 1986 which will solidify our position as the network of record in that sport as well.

“From both a programming and a corporate standpoint, 1985 was a banner year, ending in profitability for ESPN,” he added.  “We are looking forward to even greater opportunities in 1986.”


Auto Racing — live Formula One                          New logo & corporate name

CFA — new two-year contract                                Affiliate fee increase to 19 cents/month

U. S. Olympic Festival — three-year deal             Record rating — 8.0 for Georgetown at

Bowling — PBA Summer Tour                                   St. John’s basketball

ACC Basketball — five-year deal                           “Nation’s Business Today” — morning

“Spirit of Excellence” — Olympic retrospective        business program premieres

ESPN Theatre — “The Babe” & “Lombardi”          Anheuser-Busch renews major

Jersey Derby — $2 million bonus                              sponsorship

NHL — three-year contract                                      Organizational realignment — Werner,

:28:58 — innovative score service                             Bornstein promoted

America’s Cup — exclusive network in ‘87          36.9 million subscriber homes

Horse racing — 18 top races in ‘86

A summary of 1985’s key developments follows:


  • ESPN increases standard affiliate fee to 19 cents/month per subscriber.
  • ESPN introduces its new logo and adopts new corporate name, ESPN, Inc., replacing Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.


  • ESPN basketball telecast of eventual Final Four participants St. John’s and Georgetown — ranked #1 and #2 — achieves an 8.0 rating (2.9 million households) making it the highest-rated and most-watched telecast in ESPN history.


  • ESPN signs its 10,000th affiliate — Continental Cablevision of W. Bloomfield, Mich.
  • ESPN begins marketing its service to home earth station owners by authorizing the reception of ESPN’s signal through a home receiver licensing package.


  • :28:58 debuts, a unique system to provide score updates every half-hour during prime time without interrupting the telecast of a live event.
  • ESPN’s 10 days of National Sports Festival coverage becomes the largest production and technical undertaking in the network’s history.
  • ESPN and the National Hockey League sign three-year agreement for exclusive national cable rights to NHL games beginning in 1985.


  • Auto Racing ‘85 provides live coverage of NASCAR’s Southern 500 and Bill Elliott’s successful drive to the “Winston Million.”


  • ESPN realigns its executive management structure, promoting Roger L. Werner to Executive Vice President, ESPN and Steven M. Bornstein to Senior Vice President, Programming and Production.


  • ESPN remains America’s largest cable network, received in more than 36.9 million households nationwide.



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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