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ESPN was originally conceived by Bill Rasmussen,[1] a television sports reporter for WWLP, the NBC affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts.[2] In the mid-1970s, Rasmussen worked for the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers, selling commercial time for their broadcasts. His son Scott, a former high school goaltender, was the team's public-address announcer. Both were fired in 1977 and Rasmussen sought a new business venture. His original idea was a cable television network (then a fairly new medium) that focused on covering sports events in the state of Connecticut (for example, the Hartford Whalers, Bristol Red Sox, and the Connecticut Huskies). When Rasmussen was told that buying a continuous 24-hour satellite feed was less expensive than buying several blocks of only a few hours a night, he expanded to a 24-hour nationwide network. The channel's original name was ESP, for Entertainment and Sports Programming, but it was changed prior to launch.[3]

ESPN started with the debut of SportsCenter hosted by Lee Leonard and George Grande. Afterwards was a pro slow pitch softball game. The first score on SportsCenter was from women's tennis on the final weekend of the US Open.

To help fill 24 hours a day of air time, ESPN aired a wide variety of sports events that broadcast networks did not show on weekends, including Australian rules football, the Canadian Football League, Davis Cup tennis, professional wrestling, boxing, and additional college football and basketball games. The U.S. Olympic Festival, the now-defunct competition that was organized as a training tool by the United States Olympic Committee, was also an ESPN staple at the time. ESPN also aired business shows and exercise videos.

ESPN recruited Steve Powell, former Director of Sports Programming at HBO, to be its first head of Programming. Powell had been the youngest VP at HBO and its parent company (Time, Inc.), but left to attend Harvard Business School. He worked for ESPN while completing the MBA Program at Harvard.

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