These Sports Owe a Debt To Espn

There are sports that owe a great debt to the Entertainment Sports Programming Network (ESPN). For better or worse their popularity is directly related to being seen on the self proclaimed ‘World Wide Leader in Sports.’ If not for ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, ESPN News and even ESPN.com many of the sports that we see today would have trouble getting any recognition at all.

While pro football, baseball and basketball are now ESPN staples, they really did not need the network to survive. They have flourished with ESPN, but were doing fine without them. College football and basketball were doing fine without the network as well. So was men’s golf. All of these sports had contracts with the big three television networks ABC, CBS and NBC. Then Fox Network was born in 1985. They grew to challenge the big three and later paid the National Football League and Major League Baseball big money to broadcast their games.

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Every other sport would have never survived or grown as it has without the help of ESPN. The network which started out showing Australian Rules football, Billiards and ‘World’s Strongest Man’ competitions has grown immensely and taken many niche sports along with it. Here are some sports that every person involved should drop to their knees, face Bristol, Connecticut and say a prayer of thanks for ESPN’s existence every day.

Every woman’s sport with the exception of tennis should say thanks to ESPN. If there were no ESPN there would be no Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Even after the USA basketball team won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, women’s basketball needed a network to play on beginning in 1997. They started with NBC which had the rights to the NBA. When the NBA switched over to ABC/ESPN in 2002they brought the WNBA with them. The WNBA signed its own contract with ESPN in 2007.

Pro women’s golf and soccer would be irrelevant without ESPN. So would all women’s college sports. Title IX was great for women’s sports. But ESPN was even better.

This does not exclude the men. Soccer, which was supposed to have supplanted all other sports, would still be a blip on the radar screen if not for ESPN. Sure Fox Sports Net shows a lot of soccer, United States and international, but ESPN were the ones who brought it to America’s conscious first by broadcasting the World Cup.

Boxing is hanging by a thread only because of ESPN. This used to be one of the big four sports along with baseball, college football and horse racing. Now Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Ultimate Fighting (UFC) is more popular. Sure they have their pay-per-view, HBO and Showtime, but those boxers coming up in the ranks only have ESPN and Fox to turn to. ESPN was there first.

Drag racing was something that no one followed on television until ESPN. If you wanted to watch a drag race live, you had to go to your local drag strip, the street or to another city or town. Not anymore. Formula one racing has ESPN to thank also. It was big on network television at one time, but not anymore.

Even hockey would have had trouble surviving if not for ESPN. Yes, the National Hockey League plays on Versus and NBC now, but before the lockout in 2004 their main home was ESPN. The league had been on regular network television until 1979 before going to ESPN and USA Network in 1980. Then USA dropped hockey and ESPN took over in 1986. Fox began broadcasting games along with ESPN starting in 1995.

As for all of those fringe sports like the X Games, figure skating and poker well they wouldn’t see the time of day if not for ESPN.

Truthfully, with the exception of football, baseball, basketball, women’s tennis and men’s golf every other sport that has gained a measure of popularity would be nothing but tape delayed segments on ABC’s ‘Wide World of Sports’ if not for ESPN.