William F. Rasmussen

MBA '60

Managing Director; CSFBdirect
Founder; ESPN

Bio: 

William F. Rasmussen is the founder of ESPN, a network that is recognized as "the worldwide leader in sports."

To fully appreciate the scope of his accomplishment, you have to consider the television landscape in the late 1970s. Compared to today’s standards, cable was in its infancy. It focused mainly on providing service in rural areas that otherwise didn’t get good reception. There wasn’t much by way of original programming and what was produced was generally of poor quality and in black and white. No one, including the major networks, broadcast around the clock.  

Enter Bill Rassmussen, his son, Scott, and a handful of others who helped along the way. Working from desks that were little more than closet doors with legs nailed to them, and with an initial investment of $9,000 courtesy of Bill’s credit card, the ESP Network – a company that would help define modern cable television – was born.

The initial plan was decidedly more modest, however. Bill envisioned a regional sports network that would broadcast Hartford Whalers and University of Connecticut games and other local events several nights a week. He knew that to succeed, original cable programming had to compete on a quality level with the major networks. But he admits that he knew nothing of satellites, which were fast becoming the new method for delivering a program’s signal to the cable operators. Exploring further would have a big impact on their plans.

Surprisingly, it was cheaper for the ESP Network to have its own 24 hour transponder on the satellite than to rent a few hours a night several nights a week from someone else. But that begged the question – since the satellite could deliver their signal to providers across the country, should they stick with their regional business model or focus nationally? And how would they fill 24 hours of broadcast time?

The answer came while he and his son were stuck in traffic en route to the Jersey shore. Why not a national network that would broadcast games from around the country, around the clock live and on tape delay? All sports all the time. That immediately led to the need for broadcast trucks, a studio and on-air personalities. Bill also came up with the idea for “Sports Center” – a nightly half-hour show with updates between events. By the end of the day, they had created the concept for something that millions of sports fans enjoy daily – ESPN.

Recognized: June 19, 2002