It is safe to say that Bill Rasmussen changed the face of sports, and the face of television. His brainstorm for a 24-hour cable sports television station, born out of adversity, has become the Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN.
Rasmussen is the man who had the dream, the founder of ESPN.
Jim Miller, the co-author of the recent best-selling book, “Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” told John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal that “this is a guy whose idea gave birth to, arguably, the most successful media story of our time.”
Rasmussen founded ESPN in the summer of 1978. He had his innovative brainstorm for an all-sports cable TV network within days of his firing by the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association on Memorial Day weekend. A former radio and television sports broadcaster, Rasmussen had been the Whalers Communications Director but when the Whalers didn’t make the 1978 WHA playoffs, Rasmussen and most of the front office staff were fired.
His idea for an all-sports cable TV network captured his imagination, and he incorporated the fledgling network on July 14, 1978. He had already begun to seek out cable television companies, sponsors, investors and partners. With an idea that was truly ahead of its time, and running out of cash, Rasmussen found one investor who believed in the concept in February, 1979, and by September 7, 1979, ESPN was on the air for the first time, 14 months from Rasmussen’s moment of inspiration.
A life-long entrepreneur and sports fan, Rasmussen’s innovations in advertising, sports and broadcasting are numerous and include not only the creation of ESPN, but also the concept for “Sports Center,” wall-to-wall coverage of NCAA regular- season and “March Madness” college basketball, and coverage of the College World Series. He broke the advertising barrier to cable television by signing Anheuser Busch to the largest cable TV advertising contract ever.
Rasmussen’s entrepreneurial daring, his irrepressible enthusiasm and a dash of good luck gave the world the first 24-hour television network. Once unleashed upon sports fans, ESPN’s impact forever changed the way we watch television.
Rasmussen is the author of the best-selling book, “Sports Junkies Rejoice! The Birth of ESPN” (available in paperback and e-book at ESPNFounder.com). Rasmussen tells the inside story of the birth of ESPN in the book, which was recently published in a brand-new paperback edition, and is also available in digital format for most electronic reading devices.
“Sports Junkies Rejoice! The Birth of ESPN” gives sports fans the real, insider’s account from the man who changed the landscape of television and sports forever. Imagine a world without ESPN, without 24-hour television channels, and a world of only three television networks. That was the way of the world before Rasmussen’s revolutionary brainstorm.
Named “The Father of Cable Sports” by USA Today, Rasmussen was named to The Sports 100, honoring the 100 most important people in American Sports History. His place in sports history was further recognized by Sports Illustrated in 1994, when he was honored as one of the “40 for the Ages,” one of 40 individuals who has significantly altered and elevated the world of sport in the last half of the 20th Century.
- Rasmussen was inducted into the 2016 Hall of Fame of Cynopsis Sports in New York City for transforming how sports and pop culture intersect.
- In 2014 Rasmussen was named Sports Business Leader of the Year by the Minnesota State University Mankato Sport Management program
- Rasmussen received the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award for Media and was inducted into the Media Wall of Fame at the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media at DePauw University.
- Also in 2012, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Sports Launch Magazine.
- Rasmussen was honored as one of the 2011 class of The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business, an award from the Sports Business Journal and the Sports Business Daily, recognizing the architects and builders of sports, during a special ceremony at the IMG World Congress of Sports in Miami.
- Another chapter in Rasmussen’s illustrious career began when he was named Executive in Residence at The Robert C. McDermond Center for Management & Entrepreneurship at DePauw University. In his new role, Rasmussen met with students regularly on the DePauw campus, particularly with the Management Fellows Program and the Media Fellows Program. He worked with students on case study workshops and other programs throughout the course of the academic year.
These are just the latest highlights in Rasmussen’s long career of innovation, risk-taking and success, much of it in the world of sports. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Rasmussen was most talented in baseball, but followed all sports with interest. Rasmussen went to DePauw University (Greencastle, Indiana), graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Economics in 1954. He then served in the United States Air Force before beginning his professional career working for Westinghouse’s lamp division (Bloomfield, New Jersey) in sales and marketing.
After earning his MBA from Rutgers University (1960), Rasmussen had the idea for his first entrepreneurial start-up, an advertising services business based in Newark Jersey (with Westinghouse as his first customer) that is still thriving over six decades later.
Rasmussen walked away from that business to pursue his dream to become a sports broadcaster, beginning at WTTT- AM radio in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1962. Part of his tenure there is marked by his creation of the first-ever radio network for University of Massachusetts football and basketball games. By 1965, Rasmussen had moved on to WWLP-TV (NBC) in Springfield, Mass., where he spent eight years on the air as the sports director, and two years as news director. During these years, he handled numerous football, basketball, baseball and hockey play-by-play assignments on both radio and television. In 1974, he left Springfield to join the New England Whalers (Hartford, Conn.) as Communications Director, a tenure which ended after the 1977-1978 WHA season.
In addition to his role as the “George Washington of ESPN,” as longtime ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman has tagged him, Rasmussen served as a consultant to the Big Ten Conference as well as several of the member institutions on television matters, and has been at the helm of numerous other start-up companies both in traditional media and on the Internet.
He frequently returns to Bristol, Conn. for ESPN’s annual anniversary celebrations. In September 2010, ESPN dedicated the flagpole at its Bristol headquarters to its founder. On September 13, 2009, as part of ESPN’s 30th Anniversary celebration, Rasmussen was recognized for his role as the father of ESPN when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch during ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” coverage of the Phillies/Mets contest in Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park.
Among his numerous honors and awards, Rasmussen was inducted into the 2016 Hall of Fame of Cynopsis Sports in New York City for transforming how sports and pop culture intersect. He was honored as one of the 2011 class of The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business, an award from the Sports Business Journal and the Sports Business Daily, recognizing the architects and builders of sports, during a special ceremony at the IMG World Congress of Sports in Miami. Bill was named Sports Business Leader of the Year by the Minnesota State University Mankato Sport Management program in 2014, received the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award for Media and was inducted into the Media Wall of Fame at the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media at DePauw University, and he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sports Launch Magazine in 2012. The state of Connecticut proclaimed October 9, 2008 as “Bill Rasmussen Day” with a number of attendant ceremonies in his honor, including events in the city of Enfield, Connecticut. In 2004 he received the Bill Conners Communications Award from the Jim Thorpe Association, and in 2002, Rasmussen was named to Rutgers University’s Wall of Fame. In 2001, he received the prestigious Order of Achievement from Lambda Chi Alpha. Rasmussen was inducted into the Connecticut Sports Museum & Hall of Fame in 1997 and into the Enfield, Conn. Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.
Rasmussen is a gifted raconteur and a popular public speaker discussing American entrepreneurship, innovation, and the birth of ESPN. He is also a frequent guest on radio and television shows, including recent appearances on the nationally-syndicated radio shows “Sports Byline USA with Ron Barr” and “The Dennis Miller Show” and the cable television interview show “It’s Your Call.” He was a featured guest on the FOX News Channel’s “Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld.”
- Recent appearances include:
- Chief Learning Officers (CLO) symposium of Human Capital Media in Miami
- Australian Broadcasting Digital Group in Sydney
- USA Today national sales team on Sanibel Island
- Creative Success Alliance in Boston
- Human Capital Institute in Atlanta
- Inc Magazine events in Grand Rapids, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami and Greenwich
- 30th annual New England Spring & Metalstamping Association (NESMA) Trade Show in Plantsville, Connecticut
- Rasmussen spoke at a special business breakfast and book signing in his honor, hosted by the Philadelphia Business Journal. He was also guest of honor at “An Evening with ESPN Founder Bill Rasmussen” in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center City Proprietors Association
- Rasmussen addressed Youth Entrepreneurs at two events:
- Business Breakfast at Wichita State University’s Koch Arena
- Kansas City’s inaugural Youth Entrepreneurs Business Breakfast at the College Basketball Experience adjacent to the Sprint Center in the Power & Light District
- Two fundraising breakfasts for the Imagine Children’s Museum of Everett, Washington (suburban Seattle)
- on the Collegiate circuit:
- 17th annual CEO Forum at the University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, Ind.)
- Kellogg Marketing Conference at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management
- Maastricht Institute of Entrepreneurship at Missouri Valley College (Marshall, Missouri)
- Maverick Speaker Series at the University of Texas Arlington
- The January Series at Calvin College
- Arizona State University
- Auburn University
- Azusa Pacific University
- Ball State University
- Bay Path College
- DePauw University
- Indiana Tech
- Lindenwood University
- Princeton University
- Rutgers University
- Saint Peter’s University
- Union College
- University of Connecticut
- University of Kansas
- University of Florida – Levin College of Law
- University of Minnesota – Mankato
- University of Oklahoma
- University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School
- University of South Carolina
- Villanova University
- Virginia Commonwealth University – The Center for Sports Leadership
Bill at Villanova