Tuesday, May 21, 2013

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

I LOVE biographies. I especially love biographies of impactful people and companies. Some recent good ones have been Steve Jobs, Too Big To Fail, Abe LincolnRichard Feynman, and Walt Disney. I used to never be able to finish biographies when I had to read them. But now that I can listen to them? It's like eating fresh chocolate cookies that help you lose weight. Magical!

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales is another biography I loved. It chronicles ESPN's inception in 1979 to the end of 2011, otherwise known as "it's rise to dominance."

If you've watched ESPN at all, you'll love all the back stories. Did you know they originally wanted to start out as a regional station? The only reason they went nationwide was because there was a new satellite put into space and the owners were trying to sell time to broadcasters. Nobody was really interested, so they gave ESPN an awesome deal. Just like that ESPN was available nationwide to any cable provider that pointed their dish at the satellite. Now all ESPN had to do was fill the time.

I found it's impact on the cable market to be particularly awe-inspiring. Before ESPN, few households had cable - the demand simply wasn't very high. However, once families found out they could watch sports, and not just the big games, demand for cable went through the roof. ESPN was the first company to create a dual revenue stream too: fees from cable companies to carry their channel and fees from advertisers in the form of commercials. Today millions of homes have cable, ESPN created the demand and lifted the whole industry up.

I also loved reading about all the owners it went through. It really was this misfit operation out of Bristol, Connecticut that not many owners understood. At one point it was owned by Getty Oil Company. An oil company! Eventually it was bought by ABC and then by Disney during it's acquisition of ABC. It was only after Disney bought it did they realize the gem they had.

The stories go on and on.

One particularly cool way ESPN's story was told was through interviews. 90% of the book is people telling their version of what happened. You get to hear about it, and their reaction to it. It's incredible how many people they got to contribute to the book. Especially interesting was when people remembered an incident happening differently. You'd hear both versions and never really know who was right.

Did this make we want to work for ESPN?
No. I'm not a big enough sports fan.

Did this make me want to get cable so I could watch ESPN?
No, but I definitely enjoy it more now that I know the history.

Will you enjoy this book?
If you're a sports fan and enjoy biographies, then you'll enjoy this book. There's a lot of sports history along with ESPN. Plus, chances are if you're a sports fan you also already know a lot about ESPN and will recognize many of the names. I did, and I don't even watch it regularly.

Images: businessweek.com & usatoday.com

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