If you were born after 1983, you might be surprised to learn ESPN was not always “The Total Sports Network.”
Not long after programming went 24 hours on ESPN, the network debuted a weekday morning business and financial news program called Business Times on ESPN.
The concept was pure ESPN: Give busy executives the most comprehensive, fast-paced, reliable, up-to-the-second business news service available on any medium.
ESPN’s entry into the morning news business 30 years ago today (March 1, 1983), was significant for a number of reasons. The mixing of business news and sports was a bold play in the TV landscape of 1983. It was a move watched closely by the television industry because it marked a departure from a cable philosophy of segmented viewing — i.e. all sports, food, religion, music, health, children’s programming, etc.
Not only was it a break from the 24/7 sports format, but it also served as a new competitor for the morning news shows. ESPN, a subsidiary of Getty Oil at the time, had a very business-oriented game plan: Stop losing money.
The network was losing considerable money and the change in format was an effort to not only attract non-sports fans to ESPN, but to help boost advertising revenue and to recoup millions of dollars lost during the network’s first three years of operation.
Original press release from 1983
“Launching Business Times was driven by necessity more than daring,” said then-ESPN President, Bill Grimes. “We were running in the red then, which meant that at the end of every month, Getty was writing a check and sending it to Bristol to fund the operations because the revenue we were generating wasn’t [covering operations].
“My sense was that Getty was getting concerned,” he said. “I was getting questions like, ‘Bill, when are you guys going to make a profit?’” continue reading…