ESPN, Inc.: 1996 in Review

AnnouncementsYear in Review

ESPN, Inc.: 1996 in Review

For ESPN, Inc. 1996 was a year of launches–developing new ways to reach consumers worldwide with the debut of a third domestic television network, ESPNEWS; new ventures in Latin America and the Far East; and the opening of the first ESPN Club, at Disney’s BoardWalk in Orlando.  In addition, with the merger of The Walt Disney Company and Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. (now ABC, Inc.) on February 9, ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports, became part of the Disney corporate family.

Under the leadership of President and Chief Executive Officer Steven M. Bornstein, ESPN, Inc. continued to aggressively extend its brand.

  • ESPN, now reaching more than 70 million homes, televised cable’s first Major League Baseball playoff coverage and won more Sports Emmy Awards than any network.
  • ESPN2 hit the 40 million homes mark and remained the fastest-growing cable network in the ‘90s.
  • ESPNEWS, an all-sports news network, launched November 1.
  • ESPN International announced a joint venture in Asia–ESPN STAR Sports–with STAR TV (a division of News Corp.) and launched ESPN Dos in northern Latin America.
  • ESPNET SportsZone continued to break usage records and remained the most popular content site on the Internet.
  • ESPN Radio carried its first event series, the NBA, and now reaches 425 affiliates.
  • ESPN Enterprises expanded its college football Game Plan and NCAA basketball FULL COURT offerings and opened its first location-based entertainment complex, ESPN Club.

In total, ESPN distributes sports programming and information through 24 networks through various media (19 international, five domestic: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Radio, ESPNET).                   

“The past year featured many exciting new beginnings with ESPNEWS, other launches overseas and a new corporate parent,” said Bornstein, who was given additional responsibility as President of ABC Sports in May.  “We continue to remain true to our mission — finding innovative ways to provide value to our customers, expanding the business and remaining the worldwide leader in sports.”

The year’s highlights follow:


  • ESPN closed 1996 surpassing 70 million households.  Programming was highlighted by cable’s first Major League Baseball playoff games (seven on ESPN and one on ESPN2) and ESPN’s first NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four.  In addition, ESPN led all networks with 11 Sports Emmy Awards.  This total included ESPN2’s first (for Electronic Camerapersons at the 1995 Extreme Games) and awards for Best Live Series (SpeedWorld), Best Live Special (Cal Ripken’s 2,131st consecutive game) and Best Promos (This is SportsCenter).



  • ESPN2 added nearly 14 million households — now reaching more than 40 million homes — (26.7 for 12/96) and is the fastest-growing cable network in the ‘90s.  Programming enhancements for 1996 in motorsports, college football and college basketball spurred this accelerated growth.


  • The X Games returned in 1996, a year earlier than originally planned, and were a great success with improved attendance and more sponsors than the inaugural event in 1995.  It was announced the event will move to San Diego for 1997.  In addition, the Winter X Games were announced, to be held January 1997 in Snow Summit, Calif.


  • ESPN International announced ESPN STAR Sports, a joint venture with STAR TV, combining the resources of STAR Sports and ESPN Asia.  Also, ESPN Dos was launched, serving northern Latin America with much of ESPN2’s programming, as well as localized programming.  ESPN International now includes 19 networks reaching 139 million households in virtually every country in 21 languages. 


  • ESPNET SportsZone celebrated its first anniversary in April and remained the most popular content site on the Internet, continually setting new records for usage.  It averages 17 million hits per day from 279,000 non-duplicating users. ESPNET SportsZone presents the equivalent of a 90,000-page newspaper on a daily basis, including sports news, up-to-the-minute scores, statistics, features, games, polls, chats and more.


  • ESPN Enterprises enchanced the ESPN Game Plan and FULL COURT subscription packages with more than 500 NCAA basketball and nearly double the number of college football games (100) available.  CDs remained a commercial success, with Jock Jams, Volume 1 (released in 1995) and Jock Jams, Volume 2 (released in August) reaching platinum status, selling more than one million copies.  Also, ESPN Club at Disney’s BoardWalk in Orlando opened in July and has been an instant success with tourists and area residents alike.


  • ESPN Radio aired its first event series, the NBA, with 13 regular-season games, playoffs and the entire conference finals and NBA Finals.  Overall, ESPN Radio now has affiliations with 425 stations nationwide.


  • Creative Sports, the country’s largest sports syndication company, will produce more than 430 college basketball games during the 1996-97 season.


  • OCC Sports remained the largest producer of PGA Tour and Senior PGA Tour telecasts and is the exclusive producer of IndyCar racing.  Also, the ratings for the Skins Game were 55 per cent higher than in 1995.


  •  SportsTicker transmitted a record amount of information to more than 1,000 clients, serving millions of sports fans with up-to-the-minute sports scores, statistics and news every hour, every day.


Jan.         21        ESPN Radio’s first NBA telecast, the network’s first event series.

Feb.          9        FCC gives approval to merger of Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. and The Walt Disney Company.

March       1        ESPN2 reaches the 30-million homes mark (30.8 million) after only 30 months.

         29, 31         ESPN televises the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four for the first time.  The championship game (Tennessee beat Georgia) was the network’s highest-rated and most-watched women’s basketball game ever, an audience of 2.54 million homes, based on a 3.7 rating.  The weekend culminated ESPN/ESPN2’s coverage of 24 tournament games.

April        21        ESPN wins 11 Sports Emmy Awards, its most ever and, for the second time (1994) the most of any network.  Highlights: Live Series (SpeedWorld), Live Special (Cal Ripken’s record-breaking game) and ESPN2’s first Emmy, shared with ESPN for the Extreme Games in the Electronic Camerapersons category.

                 28        ESPN receives its highest motorsports rating ever, a 5.5 for the NASCAR Winston Cup Winston Select 500 from Talladega, Ala., representing 3,724,000 households.  The previous record (5.4) had been set just eight weeks earlier.

April-July            ESPN and ESPN2 televise 74 hours of Olympic Trials covering 26 sports, highlighted by 18 live hours of track and field.

May           6        ESPN President and CEO Steven M. Bornstein named President, ABC Sports.

                 13        ESPN purchases 23 acres of adjacent land in Bristol for future growth.

                 26        ESPN televises the inaugural U.S. 500 and breaks its record for Indy Car viewership with 1.9 million households watching, based on a 2.8 rating.

June       10        ESPNEWS announced, a 24-hour, all-sports news network to launch Nov. 1.

           24-30        The second annual X Games held in Rhode Island.

                 27        Snow Summit, Calif. selected as site of the first-ever Winter X Games, to be held January 1997.

July           1        Opening of ESPN Club at Disney’s BoardWalk at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., ESPN’s first location-based entertainment center.

                 10        San Diego chosen as site of 1997 X Games, to be held June 23-29.

Sept.         4        ESPN Dos launched, a network for northern Latin America with an emphasis on baseball, hockey and Mexican sports.  ESPN Dos is ESPN’s fourth network serving Latin America (ESPN Latin America, ESPN Brasil and ESPN Sur).

Oct.        1-5        The first Major League Baseball playoff games to appear on cable: ESPN televises seven games and ESPN2 airs one.

                  3        ESPNET sets a new record for usage: 21.6 million hits.  ESPNET is the most-visited content site on the Internet.

                  4        ESPN and STAR TV announce the formation of ESPN STAR Sports, an Asian sports programming joint venture combining the resources of STAR Sports and ESPN Asia.

Nov.                    Jock Jams, Volume Two (released in August) reaches platinum status, selling more than one million copies, joining Jock Jams, Volume One (released in 1995) which reached platinum earlier this year.

                  1        ESPNEWS launches.

                  1        ESPN surpasses the 70 million homes mark (70.3, ending year at 70.9).

                 16        ESPN wins six CableACE Awards.

Dec.          1        ESPN2 reaches the 40 million homes mark (40.5 million).

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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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