Happy belated birthday to ESPN, which turned 35 Sunday, making the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader officially old enough to run for President of the United States and become the actual worldwide leader.
Newsday caught up at a recent event marking the anniversary with Bill Rasmussen, whose idea the whole thing was in the first place and who got the ball rolling with his son Scott in the late 1970s. A brief Q&A with ESPN's first president:
Does it amaze you how far the network has come in 35 years?
Rasmussen: It does. It's an amazing phenomenon. They do a tremendous job in Bristol and New York and around the world, but when you get right down to it, it's the fans who've made it work. Without the fans, baseball is still 90 feet to first base and it didn't make any difference whether ESPN did it. I think it's amazing and it's a lot of fun to see old friends and we're all getting older, by the way.
How has ESPN managed to maintain its advantage over an increasing number of competitors?
Rasmussen: The reason I think that has happened and continues to happen is the singular focus on sports. That's where we started out. In those early days we had a lot of NCAA sports, but when we went and sold it we told the NCAA, "We're going to put more of your athletes on television, more of your events than ever before seen, and we're going to do it 24 hours a day." They've now shortened that to: Serve sports fans anytime anywhere. It's basically the same thing. They've kept that laser focus and never wavered.
What do you think of the new DC-2 studio complex and new SportsCenter set?
Rasmussen: If I understand it, half of the studio is bigger than our entire first building.
What do you think of how the satellite farm on the Bristol campus has grown?
Rasmussen: That iconic dish still on the front road, they had two of them there at the time and we had this one building behind it and a lot of swamp that was filled in, a trucking company behind us. And it just grew. If you recall there were satellites at different spots around the campus until the farm as it is today was cultivated in Southington. I got an aerial view and invariably people gasp. They think, well it's a football game, they run out with a truck and some cameras and that's it. They have no idea of the size.
Even though you left in 1984, do you still have pride in ESPN and what it has become?
Rasmussen: How could you not be proud of it? It's like watching your kids grow up to be doctors and dentists and university presidents or something.
Do you like the fact that while there have been other presidents, there can be only one founder?
Rasmussen: That's kind of locked in. I was in Dallas recently and they were trying to decide how to identify me: founder, first president, CEO? I said, "How about settling for founder?" That kind of says it all.