ESPN, Inc.: 1999 in Review

AnnouncementsYear in Review

ESPN, Inc.: 1999 in Review

In 1999, ESPN celebrated its 20th year, and closed the 20th century with the most ambitious review of the past 100 years in sports.  The highly acclaimed SportsCentury documentary series culminated in the countdown of the greatest athletes, and the SportsCentury book hit the New York Times Nonfiction Hardcover Best Seller List top 10.

During the last two decades, ESPN built a unique relationship in television through its connection with its audience.  The ESPN brand became a trusted source for quality sports events, innovation and in-depth information, delivered with the flair and humor evidenced in its programming, personalities and promotions.  The prestigious One Club for Art and Copy named “This is SportsCenter” the best advertising campaign of the 1990s, and the New York Times selected ESPN as one of 21 brands to watch in the 21st century.

As George Bodenheimer, who concluded his first year as president, says, “ESPN and its audience share a mutual passion for sports.  Our fans know that we take our sports seriously but don’t take ourselves too seriously.  We understand that we are here to entertain and have some fun.”

Among the many highlights of the year: two digital television networks were launched in September – ESPN Now with TV sports listings, news and promotional spots and ESPN Extra, a pay-per-view service; NFL and college football viewership continued to grow; news and information programming expanded again with SportsCenter increasing its West Coast and Saturday morning exposure and an announced increase in Outside the Lines programming; ESPN Internet Group set an online sports record in October with 8.2 million unique users; ESPN Radio debuted the Dan Patrick Show and is now heard full time on 80 stations; Bodenheimer announced plans for the Great Outdoor Games in July 2000; the ESPN and ABC Sports advertising sales staffs merged to provide unprecedented depth, flexibility, creativity and efficiency to sports advertisers and marketers; ESPN International purchased the remaining 50% of ESPN Brasil; two more ESPN Zones were opened, in Chicago and in New York’s Times Square; and in December a six-year agreement was reached with Major League Baseball.  Also, video tapes of ESPN2’s SportsFigures, which teaches math and physics through sports, were sent to every public and private high school in the country (18,000).

ESPN, the flagship network, has spawned 42 brand extensions, most of which were launched in the last 10 years.  A summary follows:


Entity                               The Numbers                                        Description

ESPN                               77 million homes                                   largest sports TV network

ESPN2                             67 million homes                                   second largest sports TV network

ESPN Classic                 20 million homes                                   only sports nostalgia network

ESPNEWS                      18 million homes (Jan. 2000)              largest 24-hour sports news network

ESPN Radio                   620 affiliates                                           largest sports radio network

ESPN Internet Group    8.2 million users per month                 most-visited sports sites

ESPN The Magazine    One million subscribers (Jan. 2000)  ad pages rank in world’s top 50

ESPN International       156 million homes                                 largest worldwide distributor of      sports

ESPN Zone                    three outlets (two opened in 1999)     Atlanta to open Super Bowl           week; Washington, DC &     Anaheim to follow

ESPN Regional TV       1,700 hours produced annually          largest U.S. sports TV syndicator

SportsTicker                    3.6 billion characters transmitted        expanded coverage of soccer

                                          in 1999                                                     and more from Europe


Jan.      2&4   ESPN Radio’s first-ever coverage of the Orange and Fiesta Bowls, in addition to Jan. 1’s Rose Bowl (first aired in 1998).

              20      Great Outdoor Games announced — a four-day, multi-sport event with fishing, timber sports, target sports and sporting dogs in Lake Placid, N.Y., July 2000.

              22      SportsCentury’s countdown of the top 50 athletes of the 20th century begins with the first of the 30-minute weekly shows, focusing on Chris Evert.

Feb.       1       ESPN and the new Mountain West Conference announce a seven-year deal for   exclusive national TV rights to football and men’s basketball to begin this year.

              25      ESPN Chairman Steven M. Bornstein is named President, ABC, Inc.

March    1       ESPN President George Bodenheimer assumes full responsibility for all of ESPN’s domestic and international operations.

               1       ESPN Classic’s new programming schedule debuts featuring more consistency, the first of a number of enhancements in 1999.

              23      At a press event and Congressional reception in Washington, D.C., ESPN announces tapes of ESPN2’s SportsFigures will be distributed to all U.S. high schools.

              28      ESPN televises the Baltimore Orioles playing the Cuban National Team live from Havana, the first Major League Baseball game in Cuba since 1959.

              28      The NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship earns a 4.3 rating, representing 3,238,000 homes — records for ESPN women’s basketball.  Tournament viewership increased 29% on ESPN and 22% on ESPN2 from 1998.

April       6       SportsCenter adds a 10 p.m. PT (1 a.m. ET) edition.

              17      The 20th NFL Draft telecast is watched by its biggest audience ever on both ESPN (2.794 million homes) and ESPN2 (746,000).

              21      ESPN wins three Sports Emmy Awards, including the X Games’ fifth in four years.

              28      ESPN The Magazine is honored, being named Best Design at the 1999 National Magazine Awards.

May      10      ESPN announces a four-year deal for the Winter X Games to be held at American Skiing Co. resorts, beginning with Mt. Snow in 2000 and 2001.

              20      ESPN, ABC and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announce a five-year deal for the Indy 500 to continue on ABC with IRL events to aired on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

June      7       ESPN and the SEC announce a long-term, multi-media agreement for football and men’s and women’s basketball.

              19 –    ESPN/ESPN2 combine to present unprecedented coverage of 30 matches of the

     July 10      1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the most successful women sports event.  ESPN also provides international feed for all 32 matches of the three-week tournament.  The July 4 semifinal match, U.S. vs. Brazil, is watched in 2.88 million TV homes; the most-watched soccer telecast on ESPN.

June    25      The fifth annual X Games begin in a new host city, San Francisco.  It features record crowds, new technical innovations including increased integration with and a skateboarding first, Tony Hawk’s “900” – two-and-a-half rotations in the air.

July      1        ESPN The Magazine’s rate base (the circulation guaranteed advertisers) hits 850,000 (from 700,000).

August           ESPN2 becomes the fastest network to reach 65 million homes (65.1).

Sept.      4       ESPN GamePlan – college football games via pay-per-view – launches its most successful season to date, with Viewer’s Choice and HITS (Headend In the Sky) offering cable systems a full satellite transponder of ESPN pay-per-view events.

               7       ESPN’s 20th anniversary and the launch of two new domestic services – ESPN Extra for pay-per-view events and the ESPN Now “barker” channel with TV sports listings, news and video promos.

              12      ESPN’s NFL season begins, with accompanying Enhanced TV via

              13      ESPN Radio debuts The Dan Patrick Show, weekdays from 1-4 p.m. ET.

              14      ESPN Zone in New York unveiled with a star-studded gala featuring a SportsCentury theme, including the announcement of the Top 20 athletes of the 20th century (alphabetically). 

              22      ESPN SportsCentury, the definitive hard-cover look at sports in the 20th century and published by Hyperion, goes on sale nationwide.  In December, it reaches the New York Times Nonfiction Hardcover Best Seller List top 10.

              28      ESPN and DIRECTV announce ESPN domestic networks will soon be available live onboard airplanes.  Passengers will be able to watch on screens installed in seat backs aboard Alaska Airlines, Legend Airlines and JetBlue.

              30      Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert hosts a reception celebrating ESPN’s 20th anniversary and honoring SportsCentury athletes.  More than 100 members of Congress attended, with Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis and Johnny Unitas.

Oct.        1       The new five-year ESPN/ABC/NHL agreement gets underway with live coverage of the retirement of Wayne Gretzky’s number in Edmonton, followed by the home opener of the defending Stanley Cup champion Dallas Stars.

              18 relaunched with product offerings expanded ten-fold.

              31      ESPN Internet Ventures registers 8.2 million unique users and more than 1.3 billion page views in October, the first time an Internet sports entity topped more than a billion page views in one month.  The total represents a 236% increase over October 1998.

Nov.     1-2     Junior X Games in Phuket, Thailand with competitors aged 10-14 from 12 countries in Asia and the Pacific Rim.  Televised by The Disney Channel, the event was held in conjunction with X Games qualifying competitions.

               4       ESPN International acquired the 50% stake in ESPN Brasil it did not own, from TEVECAP.

               4       ESPN and Disney Interactive enter into a global partnership with Konami to develop, publish, market and distribute ESPN’s line of interactive games.  The first three titles – NBA 2Night, Baseball Tonight and MLS Blast  — will be launched in April 2000.

              5-6     ESPN2 sets viewership/ratings records in two sports on consecutive days – ESPN2 Friday Night Fights was the network’s most-watched and highest-rated boxing telecast ever (813,000 households, 1.21 rating) and Minnesota’s upset of Penn State set similar standards in college football (1.393 million households, 2.08 rating).

              12      ESPN FULL COURT debuts for the 1999-2000 season, with distribution by DISH Network and cable operators for the first time and significant growth via DIRECTV.

              16      SportsCentury receives the Excellence in Sports Journalism Award, Broadcast Media, given by Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society and the School of Journalism.

Dec.       3       Western Michigan at Marshall, becomes the third college football game this season to crack ESPN2’s top 10 most-viewed telecasts.  ESPN2’s regular-season viewership is up 31% from 1998 (from 469,000 households to 615,000) with ratings up 21% (from 0.77 to 0.93).

               6       ESPN and Major League Baseball announce a six-year multimedia agreement with a significant increase in coverage – 800 televised hours, up from 500 – including a minimum of 44 games on ESPN2.  The regular-season agreement begins in 2000 and includes ESPN Radio,, ESPN Classic and video game development.

               9       Outside the Lines will be aired monthly in 2000, with a Sunday morning half-hour program to begin in April, it is announced.

              13      Reel Classics – a weekly sports movie series on ESPN Classic beginning January 9 – is announced.  Comedies, dramas and documentaries will be included.

              26      The extensive year-long SportsCentury project concludes by naming Michael Jordan  the greatest athlete of the 20th century.


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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