ESPN is a superstar of the sports broadcasting world. The company is the leading cable sports broadcaster, reaching about 100 million US viewers per month with its stable of channels, including ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN Classic. The 24-hour networks carry a variety of live sporting events, as well as programs devoted to news and analysis. ESPN also creates original programming for TV and radio, and lends content for ESPN.com, one of the most popular sports sites on the Internet. Its international operations extend the ESPN brand to another 200 countries. ESPN is 80% owned by Walt Disney (through ABC); media conglomerate Hearst has a 20% stake.
The network has become more than just a leading sports outlet on TV: ESPN's popularity is so vast it is a force to be reckoned with in popular culture, spurring catch phrases and launching athletes into celebrity status.
Through ESPN Original Entertainment and ESPN Films, the broadcaster has pushed into original programming with talk shows (Pardon the Interruption), series television, and documentary specials. The network's cultural influence also shows up in events it produces such as its ESPYs awards show, the X Games, and the Winter X Games. ESPN even has its hands in video games, apparel, two ESPN Zones restaurants, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, among other things.
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To reach that stage, ESPN has worked tirelessly to extend its power and influence throughout sports and entertainment. It holds broadcasting contracts with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Football League, as well as NASCAR and college sports conferences. The cable sports channel inked a long-term deal with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) worth more than $2 billion to air football and basketball games. ESPN also outbid FOX to air the college football Bowl Championship Series, paying $125 million a year for four years to air the top games.
In addition to big-ticket sports, ESPN has been increasing its coverage of other sports leagues, including Major League Lacrosse and Major League Soccer. The company has also been expanding its influence into the international sports scene.
The network was started in 1979 under the name Entertainment and Sports Programming Network; it adopted the new name -- ESPN -- in 1985.