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ESPN Caused it all
By Richard Lee King   

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An article crediting ESPN as the big force behind the tremendous growth of sports over the last 25 years.


Well, that's my opinion anyway.  Do you by any chance remember when ESPN first announced plans to start a 24 hour network? Initially it was supposed to be primarily a sports and entertainment network. Hence the acronym E.S.P.N, which stood for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.   When plans were first announced for this (at that time) new concept, no one gave them much chance of being successful. The big question of the day always seemed to be, “How in the world are they going to find enough sports to fill a 24 hour day?
Well that was before Fox Network and all the other sports channels and before all the other networks had dedicated so much time and money to sports programming. ESPN changed the landscape. Oh sure, in the beginning there were sometimes other types of “entertainment” on the channel. And, there were a lot of hours of off beat sports that hardly anyone followed. But today, it's nearly 100% sports programming.  Not only that, but we now have ESPN, ESPN II, ESPN NEWS, ESPN-U, ESPN CLASSIC and probably another one or two that I’m missing. In addition Fox Network has a large sports programming department as do all of the other networks. HBO broadcasts quite a few sporting events, as do Showtime and some of the other cable networks. We now have the NFL channel, NBA channel, Golf Channel and nearly ever major college conference, such as the Big Ten, has their own network to broadcast the less popular sports.
In other words there has been an explosion in the sporting world. It’s not unrealistic to credit ESPN for a great deal of that explosion. It seems appropriate to mention along about here that they occasionally have to pre-empt a regularly scheduled sports program to put on something of even more pressing urgency. Sports reporters, one of my favorite programs, will sometimes be moved to ESPN II because the Women’s Soccer Finals, or some other such type of program will be showing on ESPN. Another of my favorite shows, Pardon The Interruption (PTI) will occasionally be pre-empted on ESPN or moved to ESPN II to make room for some event that carries more prestige.
The point I wish to make is that ESPN has been the root cause of the boom in the world of sports. When they started we couldn’t imagine how they would find enough programming to fill a 24 hour day, now they have 5 or 6 channels to cover everything that they have determined we need to see. In point of fact, there were a good many re-played games in those early days and to be quite honest, there still are. But, it gives us a second or third chance to see a game that we missed or a golf match that took place while we were otherwise involved. They also re-broadcast the Sports Center program several times each day.  But that allows you to see it at a time when it is convenient for you.
In today’s world there are hundreds of thousands of fans who just can’t wait to be there to watch the NFL, or the NBA drafts. And, who but the very most avid of hoops fans ever paid any attention to the NBA draft lottery determination show.  In years past, you wouldn't even know when it was being held.  Now days, to many fans, it’s a must see and it’s all because of ESPN’s promotional department.
The NCAA basketball tournament is such a cash cow these days that they were recently considering increasing it to 96 teams. That would never have happened if ESPN hadn’t begun to make nearly every game available to the viewing audiences in other districts.  And, as much as I cringe whenever I have to listen to Dick Vital, he has had a tremendous impact on the growth of the popularity of basketball. The same could be said of Billy Packer, although he wasn’t nearly as annoying to listen to, they both have added a considerable amount to the mix.
NASCAR is another sport that owes ESPN a huge debt of gratitude. It’s another sport that has experienced tremendous growth, since ESPN began to show it on a nationwide basis. Prior to that, it was much more of a regional sport.
To a degree, I think the same could be said for golf. It has grown tremendously over the last 25 years, which just happens to coincide with the growth of ESPN. Golf even has its own network, which originally was given a big push by Arnold Palmer, one of the most popular golfers or sports figures of all time. Today’s golfers frequently play for a first prize of over a million dollars. I realize I’m getting a little “long in tooth,” but I still remember when Jack Nicholas first went over $100,000.00 for a season and if I’m not mistaken, he was the first to go over a million dollars in lifetime winnings. Tiger Woods has now had a season in which he made over 10 million dollars. ESPN isn’t the sole reason for these fantastic figures, but could anyone dispute that they have had a major impact on them?
It’s my contention that the entire world of sports owes ESPN a huge debt of gratitude. Soccer, cricket motor sports including drag racing and Indy car racing, sports fishing, mountain climbing and all of the X-Sports have all grown tremendously in popularity as a result of ESPN creating a market for them.
During football season, there are at least 5 different pre-game shows on the various networks, ESPN and NFL channels, we just can’t get enough. In days gone by you might have two guys sitting at a desk presenting facts and figures for a pre-game show. Today you will have a moderator and 3, 4, or 5 well known sports personalities seated together each taking their turn at the microphone. On top of that, there will be the game announcers chiming in from the games location and probably a sideline reporter or two will have something to add. And, it’s not just one group of game announcers, you’ll probably hear from several different announcing crews and probably a “studio host” as well. In fact, if I didn’t have Tivo, I don’t think I could survive football season. And just this past year I discovered the NFL Networks “REDZONE.” Let me tell you folks, if you haven’t seen that program, you’re in for a treat the likes of which you’ll always treasure. 
Today there are many sports millionaires, whom I believe, owe ESPN a great deal for turning their world into a world that would afford them the lifestyle which they live. Way back in the day, I can remember the Detroit Tigers offering Al Kaline his first 6 digit contract of $100,000.00. This would be hard to believe in today’s world, but he turned it down, because he didn’t feel he deserved it. That’s Al Kaline folks, arguably the biggest star to ever play for the Detroit Tigers. Of course that was at a time when the average man was making something closer to $5,000.00 per year. So in relationship, it was probably 20 times the salary of the average man. Many of today’s sports stars are earning more in the neighborhood of 50 times the average mans salary. I maintain that ESPN is at the root of that explosion as well.
By the same token, there are many sports writers who owe ESPN a huge debt for their lifestyles. They have been turned into stars because ESPN and now Fox, HBO and the rest of the sports broadcasting venues have put them on TV in so many different formats other than as a writer. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were sports writers for large newspapers for many years before becoming popular on PTI the sports talk show that was mentioned earlier in this article. Dan LeBatard, of the Miami Herald, frequently fills in on that same show, or is often seen as a panelist on Around the Horn another ESPN sports talk show. Stephen A. Smith, a writer whom I had never heard of, has made quite a name for himself. I don’t particularly like his broadcasting style, but someone must because he keeps on keeping on. That is just a few of the sportswriters who have become big TV sports personalities as a result of ESPN and the sports information boom they have caused. Not only that, but a lot of former players now find a lucrative after life as color commentators and talking heads for the various sports networks.   
Of course, technology has had a big hand in all of this as well. With the advances made in the computer industry, you can now do a broadcast from some remote location with a very minimal support crew. And possibly even more critical to the broadcast is the fantastic graphics that are made possible by the computer age. But, those are topics for another day.
© copyright 2010 Richard Lee King

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