ESPN (originally an initialism for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) is a U.S.-based pay television 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.|
In addition to the flagship channel and its seven related channels in the United States, ESPN broadcasts in more than 200 countries, operating regional channels in Australia, Brazil, Latin America, and the United Kingdom, and owning a 20% interest in The Sports Network (TSN) as well as its five sister networks in Canada.
ESPN's next big break came when the channel acquired the rights to broadcast coverage of the early rounds of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament. It first aired the NCAA tournament in March 1980, creating the modern day television event known as "March Madness." The channel's tournament coverage also launched the broadcasting career of Dick Vitale, who at the time he joined ESPN, had just been fired as head coach of the Detroit Pistons.
On April 26, 2017, approximately 100 ESPN employees were notified that their positions with the sports network had been terminated, among them athletes-turned-analysts Trent Dilfer and Danny Kanell, and noted journalists like NFL beat reporter Ed Werder and Major League Baseball expert Jayson Stark. The layoffs came as ESPN continued to shed viewers, more than 10 million over a period of several years, while paying big money for the broadcast rights to such properties as the NFL, NBA and College Football Playoff. Further cost-cutting measures taken include moving the studio operations of ESPNU to Bristol from Charlotte, North Carolina, reducing its longtime MLB studio show Baseball Tonight to Sundays as a lead-in to the primetime game and adding the MLB Network-produced Intentional Talk to ESPN2's daily lineup.
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).
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.
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).
WatchESPN is a website for desktop computers, as well as an application for smartphones and tablet computers that allows subscribers of participating pay-TV providers to watch live streams of programming from ESPN and its sister networks (with the exception of ESPN Classic), including most sporting events, on computers, mobile devices, Apple TV, Roku and Xbox Live via their TV Everywhere login provided by their cable provider. The service originally launched on October 25, 2010 as ESPN Networks, a streaming service which provided a live stream of ESPN exclusive to Time Warner Cable subscribers. ESPN3, an online streaming service providing live streams and replays of global sports events that launched in 2005 as a separate website, was incorporated into the WatchESPN platform on August 31, 2011. Likewise, ESPN+ was launched in April 2018 as an add-on subscription for $4.99 per month.
Japanese videogame publisher Konami launched the ESPN MLS GameNight and ESPN MLS ExtraTime 2002 soccer games. In the early 1990s, Electronic Arts games featured a logo for a fictional sports TV network, EASN (Electronic Arts Sports Network); this was soon changed to EA Sports after ESPN requested that the company stop using the similar name. In 2005, both companies signed a 15-year partnership, where the ESPN brand and personalities are integrated into EA Sports video games. Grid 2 also features prominent ESPN branding.
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.