Friday, September 6, 2013

ESPN Founder Bill Rasmussen Reflects on the Launch of ESPN 34 Years Ago

Philadelphia, PA – September 6, 2013 -- On Friday, September 7, 1979, the world of sports, television and broadcasting were forever changed when ESPN went on the air at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

On that day, ESPN Founder Bill Rasmussen’s brainstorm for a 24-hour cable sports television network, born out of adversity, became the Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN.

Tomorrow – Saturday, September 7th – is the 34th anniversary of that historic moment.

ESPN is like one of my children, and I am extremely proud of the way ESPN has grown, and continues to be on the cutting edge of development,” said Rasmussen.  “ESPN has always been on the leading edge of innovation, from the first idea to get a satellite in 1978, up to the present day. 
“We started ESPN 35 years ago, in the summer of 1978. We were using typewriters, telecopiers, regular mail – this was long before the Internet and even before FAX machines.  HD-TV, 3-D, cell phones, mobile apps -- we didn’t know any of that was coming,” Rasmussen said.  “Basically it’s still the same product, but it’s now delivered over a lot more platforms.  Technology is always changing but I am confident that ESPN will continue to hold the lead on sports programming for years to come.”
Jim Miller, the co-author of the recent best-selling book, “Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” told John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal that “this is a guy whose idea gave birth to, arguably, the most successful media story of our time.”

Rasmussen founded ESPN in the summer of 1978.  He had his innovative brainstorm for an all-sports cable TV network within days of his firing by the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association on Memorial Day weekend.  A former radio and television sports broadcaster, Rasmussen had been the Whalers Communications Director but when the Whalers didn’t make the 1978 WHA playoffs, Rasmussen and most of the front office staff were fired.  

His idea for an all-sports cable TV network captured his imagination, and he incorporated the fledgling network on July 14, 1978.   He had already begun to seek out cable television companies, sponsors, investors and partners.  With an idea that was truly ahead of its time, and running out of cash, Rasmussen found one investor who believed in the concept in February, 1979, and by September 7, 1979, ESPN was on the air for the first time, 14 months from Rasmussen’s moment of inspiration.

ESPN will stay on top because of the underlying culture that has been evident since day one. They want to win and explore every new idea, every new technology, and every new nuance in the industry and most importantly, they stay laser-focused on their mission - to serve sports fans, anytime, anywhere,” said Rasmussen.  “Every new idea and every new technology they employ is evaluated with that single-mission in mind. That's the way it's been since 1979 and I am confident that that's the way it will continue as new challenges and challengers appear.”

·         A series of video interviews with Rasmussen, produced by ESPN, are available online at
·         There is also a feature with original ESPN Sports Center anchor George Grande and Rasmussen on the set of Sports Center, at
·         Also online, is video of Rasmussen on the very first ESPN Sports Center broadcast, explaining how cable television works, at
·         And for a look at the first moments of the first ESPN Sports Center broadcast, go to

A life-long entrepreneur and sports fan, Rasmussen’s innovations in advertising, sports and broadcasting are numerous, including the creation of ESPN, the concepts for Sports Center, wall-to-wall coverage of NCAA regular-season and “March Madness” college basketball, and coverage of the College World Series.  He broke the advertising barrier to cable television by signing Anheuser Busch to the largest cable TV advertising contract ever. 
Rasmussen is the author of the best-selling book, “Sports Junkies Rejoice! The Birth of ESPN,” which is available in paperback and as an e-book at Some of the secrets revealed in Rasmussen’s book include the circumstances under which he had the inspiration for ESPN, how he financed the first few months of the company, how many times people told him “no” along the way, and, perhaps the biggest mystery, why ESPN is based in Bristol, Connecticut.
His book gives the real insider’s account from the man who changed the landscape of television and sports forever.  Imagine a world without ESPN, without 24-hour television channels, and a world of only three television networks.  That was the way of the world before Rasmussen’s revolutionary brainstorm, born of adversity and launched despite the odds.

Named “The Father of Cable Sports” by USA Today, Rasmussen was named to The Sports 100, honoring the 100 most important people in American Sports History.  His place in sports history was further recognized by Sports Illustrated in 1994, when he was honored as one of the “40 for the Ages,” one of 40 individuals who has significantly altered and elevated the world of sport in the last half of the 20th Century.  Rasmussen was named to the 2011 class of “The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business,” an award from the Sports Business Journal and the Sports Business Daily recognizing the architects and builders of sports.   

In October 2012, another chapter in Rasmussen’s illustrious career began when he was named Executive in Residence at The Robert C. McDermond Center for Management & Entrepreneurship at DePauw University.  In his new role, Rasmussen met with students regularly on the DePauw campus, particularly with the Management Fellows Program and the Media Fellows Program.  He also delivered a lecture at DePauw University as part of the college’s 175th anniversary Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series, received the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award for Media and was inducted into the Media Wall of Fame at the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media at DePauw University.

Rasmussen is a gifted raconteur and a popular public speaker, discussing American entrepreneurship, innovation, and the birth of ESPN.  He is also a frequent guest on radio and television shows.  His recent appearances include nationally-syndicated radio shows “Sports Byline USA with Ron Barr”, “The Dennis Miller Show” and the FOX News Channel’s “Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld.” 

Rasmussen’s current speaking tour has included private and corporate events, as well as public engagements at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, University of South Carolina, University of Kansas, Villanova University, Bay Path College, Princeton University, Quinnipiac University’s School of Law, the University of Florida School of Law, Azusa Pacific University, Lindenwood University, Saint Xavier University, Indiana Tech, Auburn University, Arizona State University, Union College and The Center for Sports Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, among others. 

Later this fall, Rasmussen is scheduled to speak at the University of Texas at Arlington on Thursday, October 24th and at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey on Friday, November 8th.

Additional information about Rasmussen is available at  You can also follow Rasmussen on Facebook ( and on Twitter (

Media Contact for ESPN Founder Bill Rasmussen:
Jim DeLorenzo