ESPN is an American basic cable sports channel owned by ESPN Inc., owned jointly by The Walt Disney Company (80%) and Hearst Communications (20%). The company was founded in 1979 by Bill Rasmussen along with his son Scott Rasmussen and Ed Egan. ESPN broadcasts primarily from studio facilities located in Bristol, Connecticut. The network also operates offices in Miami, New York City, Seattle, Charlotte, and Los Angeles.
James Pitaro currently serves as chairman of ESPN, a position he has held since March 5, 2018, following the resignation of John Skipper on December 18, 2017. While ESPN is one of the most successful sports networks, there has been much criticism of ESPN, which includes accusations of biased coverage, conflict of interest, and controversies with individual broadcasters and analysts.
ESPN NBA is the presentation of National Basketball Association (NBA) games on the ESPN family of networks. The ESPN cable network first televised NBA games from 1983 to 1984, and has been airing games currently since the 2002–03 NBA season. ESPN2 began airing a limited schedule of NBA games in 2002. ESPN on ABC began televising NBA games in 2006 (ABC Sports aired NBA games under the title of the NBA on ABC from 2002 to 2006). On October 6, 2014, ESPN and the NBA renewed their agreement through 2025.
ESPN Plus is over-the-top video streaming subscription service available in the United States, owned by Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in partnership with ESPN Inc., which is a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company (which owns a controlling 80% stake) and the Hearst Communications (which owns the remaining 20%).
It is one of Disney’s three flagship subscription streaming brands in the United States, alongside Disney+ and Hulu. ESPN+ is marketed as an add-on subscription on top of ESPN’s core linear networks, with content similar to or having been exclusively moved to the service from ESPN3 (thus having been paywalled in comparison to WatchESPN, which offered the content at no additional charge to ESPN subscribers), such as combat sports (including coverage of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Top Rank boxing), college sports, cricket, rugby union, soccer (including out-of-market Major League Soccer matches), golf (including coverage of the PGA Championship) and tennis.
ESPN+ does not include access to the full ESPN linear channels, as they continue to only be available through “traditional or non-traditional” television providers. Thus, ESPN’s major professional sports rights, including National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball coverage, are not included in the service.
ESPN FC is a U.S. television studio program covering soccer that is broadcast daily over the streaming service ESPN+. ESPN FC’s origin was a website owned by ESPN Inc. Originally established in 1995 as SoccerNet, the website was acquired by ESPN in 1999. The domain ESPNFC.com now redirects to soccer news coverage on ESPN.com.
Alongside its live sports broadcasts, ESPN also airs a variety of sports highlight, talk, and documentary-styled shows. These include:
- Around the Horn – Competitive debating between four sports writers across the country
- College GameDay (basketball) – Weekly college basketball show airing from the Saturday Primetime game of the week site
- College GameDay (football) – Weekly college football preview show airing from the site of a major college football game
- E:60 – An investigative newsmagazine program focusing on American and international sports
- First Take – Monday-Friday with Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim (moved from ESPN2 on January 3, 2017)
- Get Up! – A morning show, focusing on the previous night’s game results and the burning sports issues of the day
- Golic and Wingo – A simulcast of the ESPN Radio morning show, focusing on current sports stories
- Hall of Fame – A night show, focusing on the night events going on at that time
- Monday Night Countdown – Weekly recap show aired on Monday evenings during the NFL season, also serves as the pre-game show for Monday Night Football
- Outside the Lines – Talk and debate show that examines critical sports issues on and off the field of play
- Pardon the Interruption – Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon debate an array of sports topics
- SportsCenter – The flagship program of ESPN, a daily sports news program delivering the latest sports news and highlights
- Sunday NFL Countdown – Weekly preview show that airs on Sunday mornings during the NFL season
Many of ESPN’s documentary programs (such as 30 for 30 and Nine for IX) are produced by ESPN Films, a film division created in March 2008 as a restructuring of ESPN Original Entertainment, a programming division that was originally formed in 2001. 30 for 30 started airing in 2009 and continues airing to this day. Each episode is through the eyes of a well known filmmaker and has featured some of the biggest directors in Hollywood.
The 30 for 30 film O.J.: Made in America won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2017, the first such Oscar for ESPN.
Since September 2006, ESPN has been integrated with the sports division of sister broadcast network ABC, with sports events televised on that network airing under the banner ESPN on ABC; much of ABC’s sports coverage since the rebranding has become increasingly limited to secondary coverage of sporting events whose broadcast rights are held by ESPN (such as NBA games, and the X Games and its related qualifying events) as well as a limited array of event coverage not broadcast on ESPN (most notably, the NBA Finals). Ultimate Fighting Championship signed a 5-year contract with ESPN starting 2019 on ESPN and ESPN + which estimate every quarter 2 event on UFC on ESPN and 6 events on UFC Fight Night on ESPN.
In March 2019, ESPN announced a new betting-themed daily program, Daily Wager, hosted by the network’s gambling analyst Doug Kezirian. The program was ESPN’s first regularly scheduled program solely dedicated to gaming-related content. On May 14, 2019, ESPN announced a deal with casino operator Caesars Entertainment to establish an ESPN-branded studio at The LINQ Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to produce betting-themed content.
ESPN 1000 under WMVP is a commercial AM radio station in Chicago, Illinois, United States, carrying ESPN Radio’s sports radio format, along with a number of local programs. It is owned by ABC, Inc. and operated by Good Karma Brands. The station’s transmitter is located in Downers Grove.
WMVP airs both local programs and nationally syndicated sports shows. Weekdays begin with Golic and Wingo, a national program from ESPN, while Waddle and Silvy, Carmen and Jurko, and Kap and Company are more focused on Chicago sports. WMVP is currently the flagship station of the Chicago Wolves, the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues of the NHL.
Until 2016, it was the flagship station of the Chicago Bulls of the NBA (now heard on WSCR). WMVP also airs Northwestern Wildcats football and basketball games whenever flagship station WGN is unable to air the games due to other broadcast agreements. It also carries ESPN Radio’s national play-by-play of Major League Baseball, the College Football Playoff, and the NBA.
ESPN 1420 under KKEA is a radio station located in Honolulu, Hawaii. The station was formerly owned by Cox Radio and offers the ESPN Radio sports talk format, broadcasting at 1420 kHz with ERP of 5 kW. The station is currently owned and operated by Blow Up LLC and was marketed as ESPN 1420 before rebranding as ESPN Honolulu as of February 25, 2019. It also transmits on Oceanic Time Warner Cable digital channel 884 for the entire state of Hawaii.
ESPN2: was launched on October 1, 1993. It carried a broad mix of event coverage from conventional sports including auto racing, college basketball and NHL hockey to extreme sports such as BMX, skateboarding and motocross. The “ESPN BottomLine”, a ticker displaying sports news and scores during all programming that is now used by all of ESPN’s networks, originated on ESPN2 in 1995. In the late 1990s, ESPN2 was gradually reformatted to serve as a secondary outlet for ESPN’s mainstream sports programming.
ESPN Classic: is a subscription television network that launched in 1995 as Classic Sports Network, founded by Brian Bedol and Steve Greenberg.
ESPN Inc. purchased Classic Sports Network in 1997 for $175 million, rebranding the channel to its current name the following year. The channel broadcasts notable archived sporting events (originally including events from past decades, but now focusing mainly on events from the 1990s and later), sports documentaries and sports-themed movies.
ESPNews: is a subscription television network that was launched on November 1, 1996, originally focusing solely on sports news, highlights and press conferences. Since August 2010, the network has gradually incorporated encores of ESPN’s various sports debate and entertainment shows and video simulcasts of ESPN Radio shows, in addition to sports news programming (which since the 2013 cancellation of Highlight Express, consists mainly of additional runs of SportsCenter); ESPNews also serves as an overflow feed due to programming conflicts caused by sporting events on the other ESPN networks.
ESPNU: is a subscription television network that launched on March 4, 2005, and focuses on college athletics including basketball, football, baseball, college swimming, and hockey.
The Longhorn Network: is a subscription television network that was launched on August 26, 2011, focusing on events from the Texas Longhorns varsity sports teams of the University of Texas at Austin. It features events from the 20 sports sanctioned by the Texas Longhorns athletics department, along with original programming (including historical, academic and cultural content).
SEC Network: is a subscription television network that launched on August 14, 2014, focusing on the coverage of sporting events sanctioned by the Southeastern Conference. Created as a result of a 20-year broadcast partnership between the two entities, the network is a joint venture between the conference and ESPN Inc. (which operates the network).
ESPN International Channels
ESPN owns and operates regional channels in Brazil, Caribbean, Latin America and Oceania. In Canada, ESPN is a minority owner of The Sports Network (TSN) and the French-language Réseau des sports (RDS). ESPN also has a minority stake in J Sports in Japan. In the United Kingdom, BT Group operates the channel BT Sport ESPN. In India, it is operated by Sony Pictures Networks under the name Sony ESPN with English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam feeds.
ESPN has been criticized for focusing too much on men’s college and professional sports, and very little on women’s sports or extreme sports. Ice hockey and soccer fans have also criticized ESPN for not giving their respective sports more coverage. Other criticism has focused on ethnicity in ESPN’s varying mediated forms, as well as carriage fees and issues regarding the exportation of ESPN content.
Some critics argue that ESPN’s success is their ability to provide other enterprise and investigative sports news while competing with other hard sports-news-producing outlets such as Yahoo! Sports and Fox Sports.
Some scholars have challenged ESPN’s journalistic integrity calling for an expanded standard of professionalism to prevent biased coverage and conflicts of interest. On October 8, 2019 Deadspin reported that an internal memo was sent to ESPN employees instructing them to avoid any political discussions regarding China and Hong Kong in the aftermath of a tweet by Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. Chuck Salituro, the channel’s senior news director, sent an internal memo to staff banning any discussion of political issues concerning China or Hong Kong when covering the controversy of Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong protestors.
- James Pitaro – President of ESPN, Co-chair, Disney Media Networks
- Sean Bratches – Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing
- Christine Driessen – Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
- Ed Durso – Executive Vice President, Administration
- Aaron LaBerge – Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
- Norby Williamson – Executive Vice President, Programming
- Russell Wolff – Executive Vice President and Managing Director, ESPN+
In August 2016, The Walt Disney Company acquired a minority stake in BAMTech, a spin-out of MLB Advanced Media’s streaming technology business, for $1 billion, with an option to acquire a majority stake in the future. It was also announced that Disney subsidiary ESPN was planning to develop an over-the-top service based on BAMTech technology as “an exploratory OTT project”, drawing primarily from ESPN-owned rights for events not broadcast on television.
ESPN already used BAMTech’s platform for its TV Everywhere service WatchESPN. Disney CEO Bob Iger remarked that despite declines in the pay television industry due to cord-cutting, “live sports has really thrived, even in a world where there’s so much more for people to do and to watch.”
In August 2017, Disney invoked its option to acquire a controlling stake in BAMTech, and announced that it planned to launch its ESPN OTT service in 2018, followed by a Disney entertainment OTT service in 2019 (thus ending its relationship with Netflix).
At this time, Disney stated that the new ESPN service would draw from ESPN-owned sports rights, as well as MLB, NHL, and Major League Soccer content (although lacking major ESPN-owned rights such as the NBA and NFL), and that an accompanying redesign of the ESPN app would make it a “premier digital destination” for sports content.
During Disney’s fourth-quarter earnings call, Iger revealed that the service would be known as ESPN+. In December 2017, Disney announced its intent to acquire 21st Century Fox after the spin-off of certain businesses. The deal was to include the Fox Sports Networks group of regional sports networks (which Disney was ordered to divest under antitrust grounds), which led to suggestions that Disney wanted to incorporate FSN’s regional sports rights into the service.
In February 2018, Iger stated that ESPN was aiming for a monthly price of $4.99. ESPN+ and BAMTech were placed into the newly formed Disney business segment, Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International, on March 14, 2018. On April 2, 2018, ESPN announced that ESPN+ would officially launch on April 12, 2018, and confirmed its $4.99 per-month pricing.
On August 21, 2018, ESPN announced that it had merged its existing ESPN Insider subscription service into ESPN+, adding access to premium ESPN.com content (such as exclusive beat reports, and advanced sports statistics and analytics tools) to the service.
Both services shared the same monthly price, but ESPN Insider’s existing annual subscribers were grandfathered under its previous $39.99 per-year price (as opposed to $49.99 for ESPN+), and all former ESPN Insider subscribers continued to receive the complimentary subscription to ESPN The Magazine that was part of the subscription. The magazine ended print publication in September 2019.
On October 31, 2018, ESPN executive Russell Wolff was named executive vice president and general manager. On August 6, 2019, Disney announced that it will offer a bundle of ESPN+ with Disney+ and the ad-supported Hulu for $12.99 per-month. The bundle will be available on November 12, the same day of the launch of Disney+. In October 2019, ESPN+ began to add pre-roll advertising to on-demand content on the service.