The Michigan Daily-Friday, March 27, 1981-Page 9
-ESPN has everything
for sports junkie
By BOB WOJNOWSKI
It is, quite simply, a sports fan's
It offers everything from basketball
to rodeo, from hockey to rugby, from
Canadian football to world class soccer,
11 packed into a dizzying 24-hour
period. Every day.
THIS IS ESPN, the Entertainment
and Sports Programming Network and
it is big and betting bigger.
In the highly competitive market of
cable television, ESPN is quickly
becoming king. Such notable cable
systems as the U.S.A. Network out of
New York and the local ON-TV sub-
scription system have failed to reach
the scope of the nationwide ESPN.
ESPN operates out of Bristol, Con-
'9ecticut and six regional offices scat-
tered throughout the country. It can
service all of North America and
currently has affiliates in every state,
1,629 in all. In the words of Chris
LaPlaca, a communications assistant
in .the Bristol office, ESPN is rapidly
becoming a phenomenon."
INDEED IT IS. By adding an
average of 400,000 new subscribers
very month, ESPN now services over
8.5 million homes, better than 10 per-
cent of the U.S. television market. And
it juht recently negotiated a five-year,
$25,000,000 advertising contract with
But it was modest beginnings from
which sprang this growing
phenomenon.It originated as the brain-
child of businessman Bill Rasmussen,
who wished to develop a Connecticut
sports cable company which would ser-
vice the New England area. However,
*etty Oil got involved, a two-year con-
tract with the NCAA was hammered
out,: and from there the system
spiraled. It went on the air September
7, 1979 as a national subscription cable
ESPN's current popularity has not
come by accident. Scotty Connal, Jim
Simpson, and Chet Simmons, who is
now the president and chief executive
officer of ESPN, all came over from
BC to become the driving force behind
its national expansion. And with this
national expansion, ESPN is building a
reputation among the broadcasting
world which has enabled it to build a
wealth of talent both in the booth and
out. Such renowned sportscasters as
Bud Wilkinson, Greg Gumbel, Sal Mar-
chiano, and Simpson, as well as
Detroit's own Dick Vitale, who freelan-
ces for the network, are currently em-
ployed. And Vitale is effusive in his
praise of the staff.
"SO MANY jocks get thrown into
broadcasting with no work experience
replay an event more than three
And LaPlaca has a good reason why a
live event will usually be replayed later
that same night.
"We service the entire country, and
when something is being shown at 1
o'clock in the East, that's prime time on
the West Coast."
COVERING MORE live events is
something ESPN is gearing towards in
the future, which may also help to
alleviate another criticism of the net-
work. On any given night one is likely to
the-wall sporting events which draw the
subscribers. Rather, it is the major
sports and ESPN's unique coverage of
them which has made the network one
of the leaders in the cable industry.
Just recently, ESPN broadcasted 25
of the NCAA tournament games, most
of them live, as well as providing in-
depth coverage and analysis of the
tournament. Previously, they were the
first network ever to provide live, all-
day coverage of the NFL Player Draft
in addition to the induction ceremonies
at the Baseball Hall of Fame. They
work's commentators are free-lancers,
"It's a type of situation that works out
well for both of us," says Vitale. "I've
done about 52 or 53 basketball games
this year and I'm having a blast.
"AND IT'S amazing how many,
people watch this thing. I've gotten
more fan mail and great reviews
working for ESPN than I could've ever
gotten in a lifetime working for a major
Despite its growth, ESPN prides it-
self in being able to provide its service
at no extra cost to the subscriber. Most
local stations provide ESPN with a
normal cable hook-up. Some affiliates
charge a nominal fee of five or ten
dollars a month, but ESPN has no con-
trol over that and does not encourage it.
Much of ESPN's growth can be
traced to its immense attractiveness to
a concentrated set of advertisers.
Because most of ESPN's viewers are
male, beer, car and other related ad-
vertisers are particularly attracted to
it. And the relatively low $1,000 fee for a
prime time thirty second commercial
also adds to its desirability. ESPN's
total advertising commitments for this
year have already eclipsed the total for
all of last year.
AS ESPN GROWS, it is finding it
necessary to be more selective in what
"In the early days it was just get
something on," says LaPlaca. "But
now as we get more staff we're starting
to explore new ideas."
The selection of which sports and
which games are to be shown now
comes down to the logistics of getting a
crew to the sight, making sure there is
proper lighting and even remote in-
terest in the event, and determining if
the event is worth the money it will
AND VITALE, for one, feels that
ESPN is making all the right decisions.
"They must be doing something
right," he says. "Wherever we go we're
treated like gods, by the SID's (Sports
Information Directors), the coaches, by
"And the exposure is phenomenal. I
mean now it's Dick Vitale, ESPN
And the future, it seems, is a bright
one for ESPN.
"You don't get the talent they've got-
ten if you're not going to be around for a
few years," continues Vitale. "They're
not a gimmick. They've got a cast of
superstars and they're for real."
'And it's amazing how many people watch this thing.
I've gotten more fan mail and great reviews working for
ESPN than I could ever get in a lifetime working for a
major network. '
but these old pros have really worked
with me," he says. "They've treated
me unbelievably well."
But a 24-hour cable station, still in its
veritable infancy, is not without its
Some criticize ESPN for its lack of
live sporting events and its frequent
rebroadcasts of taped events. Com-
munications assistant LaPlaca defends
the network's inclination to do so.
"YOU HAVE TO understand that
we're a 24-hour sports station, and
there just aren't any games being
played at three in the morning," he
says. "As it is, 20 to 30 percent of our
broadcasts are live, and we rarely
turn on the station at an odd hour and
find anything from international table
tennis championships from South
Korea to the rodeo from Wyoming. Is
there an audience for these types of
sports, or are they used by ESPN as
more or less filler?
"It's amazing," says LaPlaca. "But
there does seem to be a large audience
for those types of sports.
"We heard from a bowling alley
owner in Minnesota who had fifty cars
waiting in his parking lot at five in the
morning waiting to get in and see the
table tennis championships from South
FOR SURE, though, it is not these off-
boast of their comprehensive ESPN
SportsCenter and the fact that they
broadcast more hours of sports every
two months than ABC, NBC, and CBS
combined, carry in a year.
And inevitably, with the growth of
ESPN has come a flood of requests
from across the country for work.
"THE AMOUNT of resumes that hit
this place would boggle the mind," says
LaPlaca. "People realize that this is
the thing of the future."
ESPN currently employs ap-
proximately 300 people nationwide, in-
cluding only 10 full-time announcers in
the booth. However, most of the net-
HOLDING 5-0 RECORD:
Softballers shoot for state finals
By JIM DWORMAN
Upon returning from their annual
spring trip to Columbia, South
arolina, coach Bob DeCarolis and the
Michigan softball team established a
definite goal for the season.
"We want to get to the finals of the
state tournament," said .DeCarolis.
"On paper, we should be able to get
THE REASON for DeCarolis' op-
timism is the softballers' perfect 5-0
record on the trip.
What pleased DeCarolis even more
j han the Wolverines' five victories was
the defensive performance of the team.
"Defensively, after the first game,
we were good," said DeCarolis, who is
in his rookie year as the Wolverines'
softball mentor. "Anytime you can
walk away from a five game series
giving up only three runs is excep-
WHILE IN South Carolina, the sof-
tball team registered two shutouts,
against Miami of Ohio and West
Virginia, and allowed only one run in
each of its three other contests, which
were played against Trenton State,
Adelphi, and Glassboro State.
The key to the team's fine defensive
performance was its pitching, which
DeCarolis labeled as "exceptional."
"Laura Reed and Sandy Taylor did
really good jobs," added DeCarolis.
REED, A JUNIOR, allowed only one
run in fifteen innings work, while
Taylor, a sophomore, and junior Julie
Zyjewski each surrendered a single run
in ten innings on the mound. The three
combined for a team earned run
average of 0.60, compared with their
opponents' ERA of 5.13.
DECAROLIS also cited excellent pre-
trip preparation as a reason for the sof-
tballers' early success. "The fact that
we were able to have full-scale
workouts in the new fieldhouse really
helped," said DeCarolis.
Though the team's hitting attack was
not nearly as successful as the defense
(producing a team batting average of
only .266), it did manage to score 23
"The pitching we faced was really in-
consistent. It was too slow. It hurt our
hitters," commented DeCarolis, ad-
ding, "They'll improve as the season
DECAROLIS expressed further
satisfaction about the trip because of
the fact that everyone got to play.
The coach's one regret about the trip
was that the team's final two games,
against the University of Massachuset-
ts (where Decarolis coached before
coming to Michigan) and a tough, South
Carolina University team were rained
While the team hopes to reach the
state finals in May, the softballers'
most immediate concern is their home
opener against the University of
Detroit, a doubleheader which will be
played April 1 at Veterans Park.
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