Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN

Just before Thanksgiving, I finished reading Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. I bought this book and an oral history of Saturday Night Live about two years ago after hearing Bill Simmons talk about the books on his podcast.

Those Guys Have All the Fun is an oral history of the ESPN. I have never read a book that used an oral history format. Essentially, the story is told by piecing together interviews with a large number of people. Very small transition sections written by the authors tie the story together and move it along.

I believe that my first recollection of watching ESPN was in a hotel room in Truckee during the Labor Day weekend of 1982. After playing in a rugby tournament and attending a group dinner, I ended up with Nooter et al watching Aussie Rules Football about midnight. We were all wondering what it was… Although I watched ESPN in hotels over the years, we didn't get ESPN at home until probably Christmas of 1997 when we first started using DirecTv in Shingle Springs.

Through the oral history, the authors highlight nine turning points over the last 35 years that paved the way for ESPN's road to world domination.  These include:
  1. Original founders Bill and Scott Rasmussen's decision to buy a transponder on RCA SATCOM I in 1978;
  2. Getty Oil's investment of $15 million in May of 1979;
  3. Creating a dual revenue stream in March 1983;
  4. Coverage of the America's Cup Challenge in 1987;
  5. Getting TV rights to NFL games in 1987;
  6. The $400 million, 4-year MLB deal in 1989;
  7. The mid-90s generated "THIS IS SPORTSCENTER" advertising campaign;
  8. The acquisition of a full season of NFL games in 1998; and
  9. The documentary series SPORTSCENTURY.
I particularly enjoyed the section of the book that talked about Jim Valvano's appearance at the ESPYs. This plays a key part of the 30 for 30 Vol II episode Survive and Advance.

The book also got me interested in two other parts of ESPN: the "This is Sportcenter" commercials and the SportsCentury documentaries. I watched the top 50 commercials in the last month and have started to record and watch a number of the SportCentury episodes.

At 750 pages, the book is load. I enjoyed; I felt like I got a chance to get some insights into the organization and a number of personalities. Nevertheless, I don't recommend the book to the casual sports fan. You need to be a serious sports and ESPN fan and be willing to fight your way through a lot of material.

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