ESPN founder speaks to students
Published: Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012 01:09
No, this isn’t a review of the most recent episode of “The Apprentice,” but rather the two words that caused the creation of one of the most popular television networks in the world. A man named Howard Baldwin fired Bill Rasmussen from his job as communications director for the Hartford Whalers. Why? 1978 marked the season the Whalers lost in the WHA Finals against the Winnipeg Jets. So unfortunately, every employee in the main office was let go. Rasmussen was 46 years old at the time, raising three children, and had no income whatsoever. One could say he wasn’t exactly living the “American Dream.” Little did Rasmussen know, every sports fan in the world would later thank Howard Baldwin for firing the man who would one day be the most influential man in sports television.
Rasmussen may have been unemployed, but he did have a dream that was about to become reality. UConn basketball gave Rasmussen a seemingly perfect jumping-off point. He pitched his idea of broadcasting a UConn basketball game to five cable networks. The majority of the networks told him that it would take many months, even years, for him to broadcast a single sporting event. However, Rasmussen’s passion and tenacity led him to fearlessly call one of the largest and most well-known entertainment corporations in America. He was connected to a man who worked in the sales department at RCA. The man was instantaneously intrigued.
“Where in Connecticut are you?” he asked. “I’ll be there tomorrow morning.”
And, just like that, Rasmussen’s dreams were being realized. Rasmussen and his partners were given a few time slot options, one of which would air 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Rasmussen laughed, thinking of how improbable and difficult it would be to air sports for such an extensive period of time. Shortly after, Rasmussen’s partner called up RCA and told them they’d take the 24/7 slot.
What was RCA’s reaction, you may ask? “YOU WILL?!”
It took 14 months, but Rasmussen had started something so unheard of and so innovative that networks like ABC, NBC and CBS became envious. Combined, those three major networks aired 1,300 hours of sports total per year. ESPN, however, aired 8,760 hours of sports alone. Budweiser started advertising in January of 1979. March 1, 1979, was the day the NCAA joined the network. Shortly after, ESPN started to gain some real publicity. Later that year, Sports Illustrated issued this statement: “ESPN may become the biggest thing in TV since Monday Night Football and nighttime World Series games.” Interestingly enough, Monday Night Football presently airs on ESPN.
It is safe to say that ESPN has come a long way. Last night, SportsCenter aired its 50,000th episode. It has been 32 years since March Madness, the NFL Draft and the College World Series first appeared on ESPN, and the network hasn’t stopped growing since. Yes, Bill Rasmussen was once called “The Father of Cable Sports” by USA Today. But he also understands the struggles one encounters when fighting for their dreams. Rasmussen concluded his speech at the Student Union Theater on Thursday afternoon with a rather philosophical conclusion: “You have to really be passionate…People are going to say, ‘What, are you crazy?’ and you say, ‘Watch this.’ You need to have the passion, and you go after it and pursue it and don’t listen to the naysayers. I’d probably make more money than ESPN makes in subscriber fees if I had money for all the no’s I got along the way. Never give up and just keep on going.”