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ESPN Founder Bill Rasmussen Returns to DePauw

He is in town to watch the Monon Bell Game and gave an Ubben Lecture Wednesday night.

GREENCASTLE, Ind--He's been called the "George Washington of ESPN" by longtime anchor Chris Berman was back at his alma mater this week. 

He gave an Ubben Lecture at DePauw University Wednesday night and will attend Saturday's Monon Bell Game between DePauw and Wabash.  

Bill Rasmussen has conducted many professional ventures in his life, but he's probably most known for being the man who founded ESPN. Rasmussen came up with the idea for ESPN in June 1978 after losing his job as director of communications for the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association.  He found a bargain on satellite dishes and realized he could rent 8,760 hours of programming over a 5-year period. At the time, though, no TV channel was broadcasting 24 hours. He and his son, Scott, wanted to do just that. 

"We were in this car ride going to my daughter's 16th birthday and the question we asked amongst ourselves was 'What are we going to show  for 24 hours a day?' Scott said, 'Play football for all I care.' Before we got to New Jersey, we decided that the NCAA was going to be falling in love with us because we were going to be doing all of these games," Rasmussen said. "We figured it would only be a matter of time before we had them. Believe it or not, that occurred in August of 1978 and on March 1, 1979, we signed a 2-year contract with the NCAA and we had our programming set from that point on." 

Then Getty Oil purchased 85% of ESPN and left 15% of the enterprise to be split. The investors decided to remove Rasmussen from power by July 18,1979. 

"They were the 8th advertiser that we approached. The Vice President of Getty's Non-Oil Investments was a big sports fan and TV fan. I thought that'd be great, but it turned out he was that because he wanted to be in the middle of it," Rasmussen said. "He wanted to be in the booth and talk to the announcers, that sort of stuff. Then in 1979, they (Getty) made it very clear that they were going to operate it their way and not our way." 

On September 30, 1980, ESPN announced that Rasmussen was leaving the company by agreement. By 2005, George Bodenheimer, then president of ESPN, buried the hatchet between the company and Rasmussen by dedicating a plague and flag pole in Rasmussen's honor. 

In a sit-down interview with WIBC, Rasmussen weighed in on many different topics. 

On the ESPN downturn 

ESPN has lost an estimated 8.5 million subscribers, which equates to over $600 million in lost annual revenue. Nonetheless, Rasmussen remains optimistic about the network's future. 

"They've been the leaders in technology from day 1. Just a couple years ago, they streamed 82 billion minutes of sports." 

On Politics Being Injected into ESPN and Sports 

"I don't get involved in any of that stuff. I don't even pay attention to it nor do I comment on it. My only interest in sports is the outcome of the particular event. Why wouldn't you want to talk about that or something positive ?" 

On the Viewing Habits of Sports Fans 

"Sports are the only real reality show on television. If they are determined to see a game, they would go find their own team and whatever their own interest is. If a fan found someone down the street with 2 paper cups and a string between them and they could see the game that way, then that's the medium that they would watch." 

Story About Former Indiana Men's Basketball Coach Bob Knight

"He didn't like ESPN. 48% of the households in Indiana were cable households (at the time in the mid 80s). The IU President at the time joined Bob Knight in saying, 'It's the right of every Hoosier resident to see Indiana basketball and if you can only show it to 48% of them, then we're not going to do business with you' and they didn't." 

Indiana eventually became apart of the ESPN package and were seen on television more. Knight also became a commentator for ESPN in 2008 as a men's college basketball studio analyst during Championship Week and for coverage of the NCAA Tournament. He continued covering college basketball for ESPN through the 2014-15 season. 


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