"The George Washington of ESPN," Bill Rasmussen '54, is Profiled

"The George Washington of ESPN," Bill Rasmussen '54, is Profiled

April 5, 2011

86134April 5, 2011, Greencastle, Ind. — "I admire him so much," says ESPN President George  Bodenheimer of Bill Rasmussen, the 1954 DePauw University graduate who founded the sports network in 1979. "His passion and can-do attitude really sums up the spirit and the culture of the company today. That's him."

Bodenheimer is quoted in a feature on Rasmussen published in Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Daily. It notes how Rasmussen "first came up with the idea of producing sports events for cable television in May 1978, just a week after being fired as communications director of the New England Whalers of the old World Hockey Association. Rasmussen's original idea was to produce local sports for Connecticut cable systems. By August of 1978, Rasmussen and his son, Scott [a 1986 DePauw graduate], had expanded that idea. They decided that a national sports channel could work 93108on cable and were confident they could find investors."

ESPN signed on in September 1979 and Bill Rasmussen left about two years later, selling his shares in the network, which is now owned by the Walt Disney Company, in 1984.

"Bodenheimer has always felt that understanding ESPN's history was an important piece to the company’s success, and he wanted to establish connections with ESPN's past. That meant reaching out to Rasmussen," writes John Ourand. "For the past decade, ESPN's current management team has embraced Rasmussen's role as the creator of the world's biggest sports media entity. This culminated last year in the formal dedication of the main flagpole on ESPN's campus in Rasmussen’s name."

Looking back over the thirty-plus years since his creation signed on, Rasmussen notes, "It's kind of like watching your kids grow up."77326

The article coincides with Rasmussen's recognition as one of the 2011 class of "The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business."  The award, presented by SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily, recognizes "the architects and builders of sports." It includes comments from Dick Vitale and Chris Berman, an orginal ESPN anchor who calls Rasmussen every September 7 with a greeting of "Hello, George" (Berman calls Rasmussen "the George Washington of ESPN").

"His current venture, called Power Grid TV, is one of the reasons he’s been traveling so much recently," Ourand reports. "It is devoted to streaming college sports games that don’t make it onto a traditional television network. For the past year, Rasmussen has scoured the country, visiting smaller schools and gauging their interest in committing to such a service. From his home in Seattle, Rasmussen travels at least once a month to big and small markets as he tries to pitch people on his next big thing."

According to the entrepreneur, "It feels pretty much the same as the 89669early days of ESPN. ESPN produces and generates programming that it sends to the cable systems. We're skipping all of that. Now, we're going to be a channel that’s going to promote all the schools that participate. They're the cable systems."

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Bill Rasmussen authored Sports Junkies Rejoice! The Birth of ESPN and is among 39 business leaders interviewed in a new book, Tough Calls From the Corner Office.