In 1995, ESPN, Inc. continued to extend its brand name worldwide and market new product lines and services. Under the leadership of President and Chief Executive Officer Steven M. Bornstein, ESPN became the first cable network to reach 70 percent of U.S. television households; ESPN2 was the fastest-growing network over the past two years; ESPN International launched or invested in seven networks; the inaugural Extreme Games received worldwide accolades; ESPN Radio acquired its first event series, the NBA; and ESPNET SportsZone was the most successful Internet launch ever, becoming the World Wide Web’s most popular sports site.
In total, ESPN product is now distributed through 20 networks (16 international, four domestic: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Radio, ESPNET).
“In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, ESPN is well positioned for the future as we find new ways to reach the sports fan around the world,” Bornstein said. “Our people continue to make the difference.”
ESPN was cited as one of the reasons for The Walt Disney Company’s pending merger with Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. by Disney’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Michael Eisner.
The year’s highlights follow:
- ESPN, the nation’s largest cable network with more than 67 million subscribers, added nearly five million homes to become the first to be seen in 70% of American television households. Also, under the terms of a new five-year agreement with Major League Baseball, ESPN will add post-season games next year and continue its Sunday/Wednesday lineup. The year’s programming was highlighted by record viewership for Cal Ripken’s 2,131st consecutive game, breaking Lou Gehrig’s mark, September 6. Also, the network continued its emphasis on creative marketing with innovative ad campaigns for the NFL featuring Art Donovan and for SportsCenter with sports celebrities who travelled to ESPN in Bristol, Conn.
- ESPN2 added 10 million households and is the fastest-growing network over the past two years; it now reaches 26.7 million homes. Recent steps to broaden ESPN2’s appeal include increased commitments to motorsports (700 original hours in 1996), college football (17 games with 40 planned for 1996) and basketball (166 games) and NHL (NHL 2Night added to lineup of 108 games).
- The inaugural Extreme Games featured 400 athletes competing in 27 events during 50 hours of programming between the two networks. The event proved so successful with viewers and advertisers that the Games will return a year early in June 1996.
- ESPN International launched or acquired equity interest in seven networks: all-sports networks in Argentina, Australia (2), Brazil, India and Southern Africa and a 20% interest in Canada’s The Sports Network. ESPN International now includes 16 networks serving 150 countries in 14 languages. In addition, a 46,000 square-foot production facility in Singapore was opened.
- ESPNET SportsZone debuted in April and quickly became one of the Internet’s most popular services with 120,000 users each day. It features 15,000 pages of content, including sports news, up-to-the-minute scores, statistics, features, games, polls, chat and more. In November, a revolutionary broadband application of the service was announced which will greatly enhance audio and video quality and dramatically increase the speed of data transmission when implemented in 1996.
- ESPN Enterprises launched four annuals with Hearst Magazine Enterprises — NFL, college basketball, NBA and year in review — and announced plans for expansion to eight publications in 1996 with the addition of baseball, NHL, Summer Olympics and college football. Also, two CDs were released: Jock Rock II, and Jock Jams. The latter and 1994’s Jock Rock went gold, selling more than 500,000 copies. In addition, ESPNET To Go — a hand-held wireless sports information receiver — was created and an out-of-market NCAA basketball package of up to 425 games, ESPN Full Court, debuted.
- ESPN Radio signed its first event series contract — to broadcast NBA games including regular-season games, playoffs and the entire conference finals and NBA Finals. The first broadcast will be Orlando at Houston January 21, 1996. Also, affiliates carrying The Fabulous Sports Babe climbed from 90 to 150 and ESPN2 began a one-hour simulcast of her show in September.
- SportsTicker‘s acquisition was finalized in January, Creative Sports began syndication of Big East and Big Ten basketball and football, and OCC Sports produced more live events (60) and more hours of live television (more than 300) than ever. OCC Sports productions appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, ESPN2 and TNT.
1995 YEAR IN REVIEW
Feb. 13 The third annual ESPYs move to a new venue — New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall.
April 1 ESPN Enterprises, Inc. and Starwave Corp. debut the most advanced online sports information service — ESPNET SportsZone — to fans around the world.
6 ESPN Enterprises, Inc. and Hearst Magazine Enterprises announce an agreement to publish four special interest sports magazines in 1995, covering the NFL, NBA, NCAA basketball and the year in review.
19 ESPN2 announces it will dramatically increase its auto racing news and information coverage with a Sunday night motorsports highlights program and in February 1996 the first-ever, daily 30-minute show devoted to the sport.
May 1 ESPN Argentina launched.
June 14 ESPN’s Singapore production facility begins transmitting in Asia with a cricket match between England and the West Indies.
17 ESPN Brasil launched.
June 24 – July 1 The inaugural Extreme Games are held in Rhode Island. More than 400 athletes compete in 27 events that are covered in more than 50 hours of programming on ESPN and ESPN2.
July 17 ESPN and other investors purchase Labatt Communications Inc. of Canada which includes many different television-related companies including The Sports Network.
August 9 ESPN and NBC announce the awarding of exclusive cable rights to a variety of United States Olympic Trials in 1996 — totaling 77 original hours from 20 sports — to ESPN.
Sept. 1 ESPN2 debuts SportsFigures which teaches math and physics to high school students through sports using a sports celebrity in each episode. It is aired commercial-free as part of the industry’s Cable in the Classroom initiative.
6 ESPN televises Cal Ripken’s 2,131st consecutive Major League Baseball game, breaking Lou Gehrig’s record. The telecast is the network’s most-watched telecast in history, excluding NFL games, with an average of 5,840,000 households watching, based on ESPN’s 7.5 rating and over-the-air viewership in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
20 ESPN and SportsVision launch two all-sports networks in Australia. Sports ESPN presents a wide variety of events from around the world and Sports Australia emphasizes sports of particular interest in that country.
26 ESPNET SportsZone adds seven sponsors. By the end of the year, 13 advertisers will have sponsored the service.
Oct. 1 ESPN becomes the first U.S. cable network to be seen in 70% of television households, with 67.1 subscribers.
1 ESPN2 celebrates its second anniversary, passing the 25 million subscriber mark.
2 ESPN televises the California Angels vs. Seattle Mariners division tie-breaking game.
16 ESPN India launches, that country’s first all-sports cable network and ESPN’s 16th network outside the U.S. With commentary in English and Hindi, ESPN programming is now heard in 14 languages worldwide.
31 Outside the Lines, winner of five Sports Emmys for its enterprising journalism, airs its Fifth Anniversary Special.
Nov. 3 Multichoice Southern Africa launched.
6 ESPN and Major League Baseball announce a five-year agreement that includes the sport’s first post-season games to be aired on cable — six to 12 Division Series playoff games per year. The package also will continue ESPN’s Sunday/Wednesday lineup and allows greater flexibility for coverage of breaking news and milestones on ESPN2.
14 ESPN Radio Network acquires national radio broadcast rights to the NBA, the network’s first agreement for an event series. The package includes 13 regular-season games on Sunday afternoons, playoff games and the entire Conference Finals and NBA Finals, the NBA All-Star Weekend and the NBA Draft.
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