Monday, June 03, 2024

The Early Days Of ESPN By Peter Fox

There is a new book coming out in the US tomorrow which might be of interest to those keen to learn about the birth of ESPN.

The Early Days of ESPN: 300 Daydreams and Nightmares is written by Peter Fox, who was there in the late 1970s when what would become one of the biggest sports channels in the World was born.

Fox's book recalls nearly all of the people - both behind the scenes and in front of the camera - there at the start of ESPN's life. The author affectionately refers to those pioneers as 'SPNauts.

I was drawn to the book when I was looking through a list of titles I could request advance copies of from Net Galley. 

As a fan of American sports, it felt like I was a perfect person to learn about the brand's early days. I have obviously been aware of ESPN for many years. I listen to ESPN radio affiliates on my radios throughout American football season and - from the early 2000s right through to last August - I watched ESPN programming on cable television before Disney decided to move its sports brand away from Europe.

Speaking of Disney - one of the first things I first learned, through reading Fox's book, is that Disney was not involved with ESPN at the start. ESPN's main investor at the time of launch was Getty Oil which bankrolled the brand until close to the mid-1980s when it sold out to ABC.

Fox runs through almost every person he would have known and worked with at the time. As I wasn't a follower of ESPN back then and obviously not clued in on names of back of house staff, plus: with no proper knowledge of its early history, all but one of those names were foreign to me.

The only person I am aware of is Chris Berman who hosted one of the NFL shows I used to watch on ESPN America when it was a channel here in the UK.

I didn't get to learn much about the individuals Fox writes about. However, a handful of those people shared some of their own personal memories with the author for this book.

Through reading Fox's words - and those from his friends and colleagues -  I sense there was a lot camaraderie back then between each employee. There must be some sort of pride they all equally share to see what they made when they consider the juggernaut that has become of ESPN almost close to forty-five years later.

One of the most interesting things included with Fox's insight and tales were diagrams of the run sheets that were used by the production staff. Fox was also able to find early press releases which were sent out by ESPN in that period of time.

It's time capsule stuff. As was one of the stories about how they filmed a tennis tournament in Monaco and had to carry the film back-and-forth between France and the USA via Concorde daily. 

Oh, how the digital age has made things easier. Especially now that Concorde is no longer with us!

I felt the book lost its way near its end. The closing chapter saw Fox ask Google Bard about the future of TV and - even though he was making a point about future technology and how we'll view sports - it was lost on me why it was being asked here considering the focus should have been on ESPN's 'Early Days'. It is the title after all.

Considering I am not American and know very little about that country's TV history, I conclude I was not the proper target demographic for this title after all.

This book would best be suited for followers of the American version of ESPN (a bonus if you were a fan from its early days), those with a strong interest in start-up American business - especially in the TV landscape - and could go so far as to say the most obvious audience for this book are the original 'SPNauts who pioneered this project from day one and into its early childhood.


Thanks to Net Galley and Globe Pequot for the advance reading copy. 

Even though the book will be published in the USA tomorrow, Peter Fox's 'The Early Days of ESPN: 300 Daydreams and Nightmares' will be available to customers of Amazon UK on August 4 2024.

Order From Amazon US

Pre-order From Amazon UK

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