ESPN, Inc.: 2003 in Review

AnnouncementsYear in Review

ESPN, Inc.: 2003 in Review

In 2003, ESPN served sports fans as never before – adding creative new content and innovative new technology – with enviable results, including a streak of eight quarters of year-to-year ratings growth, the launch of ESPN HD, and a very productive period of sports rights acquisitions.  The company looks to continue this momentum in 2004, when ESPN Deportes debuts, the Digital Center – one of the largest, most technically advanced facilities of its kind – goes online and an extensive multi-media review of the past 25 years in sports culminates upon ESPN’s silver anniversary September 7.

More and more, ESPN has become an integral part of the sports landscape as 90 million Americans interact with ESPN each week.  For its efforts, the company received many honors in 2003, including nine Sports Emmys, a Peabody Award, numerous honors for including the Online Journalism Award, the National Magazine Award for General Excellence for ESPN The Magazine, awards for its promotions and marketing and for programming addressing diversity topics, as well as a Beacon Award for ESPN2’s educational SportsFigures series.

“Rapid change marks the worlds of technology and media, and sports leads the way, as evidenced by ESPN being selected #1 by operators and viewers,” said George Bodenheimer, ESPN President, who in March also was named President, ABC Sports.  “From ESPN HD to ESPN Motion, the upcoming launch of ESPN Deportes and many other products in between, ESPN continues to find new ways to serve sports fans, whom we will celebrate during our 25th anniversary in 2004.”


An independent survey of affiliates and viewers by Beta Research Corp. ranked ESPN and ESPN2 1-2, respectively, in perceived value among major ad-supported cable networks.  For the third consecutive year, operators ranked ESPN #1 in perceived value, network importance to a cable system, and in generating local ad sales revenue.  ESPN also led in affiliate web site ranking, and in a new question on effectiveness in selling broadband, high-speed Internet or interactive television.

  • ESPN has enjoyed year-to-year ratings growth in eight consecutive quarters and was up 11% for the year, including its two most-watched months ever (Oct. and Nov.) with particular strength in the key group of men 18-34.  Adding the NBA bolstered time period ratings by 54% (playoffs up more than triple) with the 2003-04 season up another 15%).  MLB playoffs (most-viewed in history) and Wimbledon (+80% vs. time period) joined the lineup while SportsCenter (+11%) and NFL programming (games and all studio shows up) remained strong.  Other increases: PGA Tour up 14%, College GameDay up 9%, the Women’s Final Four up 9% and the College World Series up 27%.  Viewer and critical acclaim continued for ESPN Original Entertainment offerings, including Pardon the Interruption, Rome is Burning (new in 2003), Around the Horn, the Pete Rose on Trial special and ESPN’s first scripted drama, PLAYMAKERS.   
  • ESPN2 celebrated its 10th anniversary in October by launching ESPN’s first morning show, Cold Pizza, and is virtually on par with ESPN’s distribution (86.8 million households vs. 88.3 million).  ESPN2 registered its four biggest audiences ever (MLB playoff games, helping make October ESPN2’s most-watched month) with viewership up 9% for the year.  Other successes: men’s college basketball (+15%), college football (+6%) and Wimbledon (up four-fold vs. time period).
  • ESPN Classic hit the 50 million homes milestone and ESPNEWS is nearing 50 million including part-time distribution.  ESPN HD debuted as a high-definition service.  ESPN Pay-Per-View debuted.  Other offerings were enhanced — ESPN Today, ESPN VOD and ESPN BroadbandESPN Deportes – a Spanish-language U.S. network featuring a specially produced SportsCenter – will launch January 7.  ESPN Regional Television added the Ft. Worth Bowl to its properties, in addition to remaining the nation’s largest TV syndicator of intercollegiate sports. 
  • ESPN Radio moved into a new digital facility at ESPN Plaza and continued as the nation’s largest sports radio network (16 million listeners each week, 240 full-time affiliates, 700 total, and is heard in the top 50 markets). 
  •, sports’ leading web site, averages 16 million users each month with a record 18.6 million in October.  Premium subscriptions doubled and two million people installed ESPN Motion, high-quality video clips. 
  • ESPN The Magazine celebrated its 5th anniversary and was one of only three magazines on both the Adweek Top 10 Hot List and Ad Age’s A-List.  Its rate base will rise in January to 1.75 million
  • SportsTicker renewed with Yahoo! and signed agreements with NFL Network, CSTV and Microsoft SPOT. 


  • Winter X Games VII and X Games IX each achieved record TV audiences.  Winter X attendance was up 34% in Aspen and the X Games set attendance records at its new host venue, Los Angeles’ STAPLES Center.
  • The 11th Annual ESPY Awards introduced online fan balloting.
  • ESPN Outdoors experienced growth at the Great Outdoor Games and the CITGO Bassmaster Classic.


  • ESPN International – 25 networks in 10 languages in 147 countries – signed key rights renewals with the NFL, UEFA Champions League and Spanish First Division Football.  Also, distribution of Orbit-ESPN to more than 20 countries in the Middle East was renewed for five years.  In Europe, ESPN Classic Sport launched a 24-hour English-language network in eight countries.  ESPN Star Sports added two commercial streams and now offers 11 services in Asia.  ESPN Radio launched in Singapore, with three-times daily SportsCenter updates. 


  • ESPN Enterprises launched ESPN Videogames, re-branding Sega Sports “2K” series, and the line has received numerous industry honors and much acclaim.  ESPN Golf Schools debuted with top instructors visiting nearly 50 cities.  BASS and Bass Pro Shops teamed for a line of BASS merchandise, while the X Games debuted school supplies and Inside X DVDs.  ESPN Presents: Stadium Anthems – a CD of “sports standards” – was released.  Also, a fifth ESPN Skatepark opened in St. Louis. 


  • Ad execs voted ESPN the top network for brand image with the top demos on cable.  More than 40% of ESPN ABC Sports Customer Marketing and Sales’ agreements of more than a million dollars included at least one medium beyond TV.   


  • Team ESPN was announced, encompassing ESPN’s community outreach efforts and its community relations programs.  Team ESPN includes employee volunteerism and corporate giving programs while utilizing ESPN’s multimedia assets to support the company’s sports-themed cause-marketing initiatives.  In the fall, “ESPN Play Your Way” was launched, promoting physical activity among youth by providing “games to play, places to play and stuff to play with.”


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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