Today in 1979, at 7:00pm Eastern time, the first cable channel devoted exclusively to sports and entertainment went live from its studio in Bristol, Connecticut.
The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) was the dream of Bill Rasmussen, a former communications director for the New England (later Hartford) Whalers, who spent the better part of the previous year trying to drum up support for what seemed like an incredibly risky and unprecedented business venture. Cable television was still in its infancy in the late 1970s, and pitching the idea of a 24-hour network devoted to any one subject, let alone sports, was a hard sell, especially before cable mainstays like CNN and MTV existed. To his credit, Rasmussen was able to convince Getty Oil and Anheuser-Busch to sponsor his new cable network, and ESPN became a reality on September 7, 1979 when the first episode of SportsCenter aired live from a humble television studio on a one-acre parcel of land on Bristol’s Middle Street. Less than a year later, ESPN became a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week cable channel and was well on its way to breaking numerous records regarding cable TV viewership.
Today, nearly 40 years later, ESPN remains the undisputed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” with several 24-hour cable channels, radio stations, print magazines, and an online empire of on-demand content. Since its initial broadcast in 1979, SportsCenter has aired over 50,000 episodes — more than any other American television program — and ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcasts remain the most-watched cable television series in U.S. history. The network’s headquarters remain in Bristol, where the one acre of land bought by Rasmussen in 1978 has expanded to a sprawling, state-of-the-art 100-acre campus that has transformed the former factory town into an international sports broadcasting hub.