ABC Sports

"ABC Sports" redirects here. For other uses, see ABC Sports (disambiguation).
ESPN on ABC logo
Formerly known as ABC Sports
Key people John Skipper
Major broadcasting contracts NBA
College football
IndyCar Series
Parent The Walt Disney Company
Official website ESPN on ABC

ESPN on ABC (formerly known as ABC Sports) is the brand used for sports programming on the ABC television network. Officially the broadcast network retains its own sports division; however, for all practical purposes, ABC's sports division has been merged with ESPN, a sports cable network majority owned by ABC's corporate parent, The Walt Disney Company.

ABC broadcasts use ESPN's production and announcing staff, and incorporate elements such as ESPN-branded on-screen graphics, SportsCenter in-game updates, and the BottomLine ticker. The ABC logo is used for the digital on-screen graphic in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, and is also used for promotions so that viewers will know to tune into the broadcast network and not the ESPN cable channel.[1]

Prior to September 2, 2006, the broadcast network's coverage carried the ABC Sports brand,[2] although integration of ABC's sports division with ESPN had begun a decade earlier. The branding change was made to better orient ESPN viewers with the programming on ABC and provide consistent branding for all sports broadcasts on Disney-owned channels (shortly thereafter, ESPN2's in-game graphics were likewise changed to refer simply to "ESPN"). Despite its name, ABC's sports coverage is supplemental to and not a simulcast of ESPN, although ESPN and ESPN2 will often carry ABC's regional broadcasts that otherwise would not air in certain markets.


Pre Disney/ESPN

Like its longtime competitors CBS Sports and NBC Sports, ABC Sports was originally part of the news division of the ABC network, and later (after 1961) a separate sports division.

When Roone Arledge came to ABC Sports as a producer of NCAA football games in 1960, the network was in financial shambles. The International Olympic Committee even wanted a bank to guarantee ABC’s contract to broadcast the 1960 Olympics. Edward Scherick was then serving as the de-facto head of ABC Sports. Scherick had joined the fledgling ABC television network when he persuaded it to purchase Sports Programs, Inc. Scherick had formed this company after leaving CBS, when the network would not make him the head of sports programming, choosing instead William C. McPhail, a former baseball public relations agent. Before ABC Sports even became a formal division of the network, Scherick and ABC programming chief Tom Moore pulled off many programming deals involving the most popular American sporting events.

While Scherick wasn't interested in "For Men Only," he recognized the talent Arledge had. Arledge realized ABC was the organization he was looking to join. The lack of a formal organization would offer him the opportunity to claim real power when the network matured. So, he signed on with Scherick as an assistant producer.

Several months before ABC began broadcasting NCAA college football games, Arledge sent Scherick a remarkable memo, filled with youthful exuberance, and television production concepts which sports broadcasts have adhered to since. Previously, network sporting event broadcasts had consisted of simple set-ups and focused on the game itself. The genius of Arledge in this memo was not that he offered another way to broadcast the game to the sports fan, but to recognize that television had to take the sports fan to the game. In addition, Arledge was intelligent enough to realize that the broadcasts needed to attract, and hold the attention of female viewers. At age 29 on September 17, 1960, he put his vision into reality with ABC's first NCAA college football broadcast from Birmingham, Alabama, between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs won by Alabama, 21–6.

Despite the production values he brought to NCAA college football, Scherick wanted low-budget (as in inexpensive broadcasting rights) sports programming that could attract and retain an audience. He hit upon the idea of broadcasting track and field events sponsored by the Amateur Athletic Union. While Americans were not exactly fans of track and field events, Scherick figured Americans understood games.

In January 1961, Scherick called Arledge into his office, and asked him to attend the annual AAU board of governors meeting. While he was shaking hands, Scherick said, "if the mood seemed right, might he cut a deal to broadcast AAU events on ABC?" It seemed a tall assignment, but as Scherick said years later, "Roone was a gentile and I was not." Arledge came back with a deal for ABC to broadcast all AAU events for $50,000 a year. Next, Scherick and Arledge divided up their NCAA college football sponsor list. They then telephoned their sponsors and said in so many words, "Advertise on our new sports show coming up in April, or forget about buying commercials on NCAA college football this fall." The two persuaded enough sponsors to advertise, though it took them to the last day of a deadline imposed by ABC programming to do it.

Wide World of Sports suited Scherick's plans exactly. By exploiting the speed of jet transportation and flexibility of videotape, Scherick was able to undercut NBC and CBS's advantages in broadcasting live sporting events. In that era, with communications nowhere near as universal as they are today, ABC was able to safely record events on videotape for later broadcast without worrying about an audience finding out the results.

Arledge, his colleague Chuck Howard, and Jim McKay (who left CBS for this opportunity) made up the show on a week-by-week basis the first year it was broadcast. Arledge had a genius for the dramatic storyline that unfolded in the course of a game or event. McKay's honest curiosity and reporter's bluntness gave the show an emotional appeal which attracted viewers who might not otherwise watch a sporting event. But more importantly from Arledge's perspective, Wide World of Sports allowed him to demonstrate his ability as an administrator as well as producer. Arledge did not gain a formal title as president of ABC Sports until 1968, even though Scherick left his position to assume a position of vice president for programming at ABC in 1964.

Arledge personally produced all ten ABC Olympic broadcasts, created the primetime Monday Night Football and coined ABC's famous "Thrill of victory, agony of defeat" tagline – although ABC insiders of that era attribute the authorship to legendary sports broadcaster Jim McKay.[3]

Over the next few years, the look of those programs became more intimate and entertaining, as ABC under Arledge introduced techniques such as slow motion, freeze frame, instant replay, split-screen, hand-held cameras, endzone cameras, underwater cameras and cameras on cranes.

With the creation of Monday Night Football, Arledge not only anchored ABC’s prime time programming but created a national pastime. At first nobody, including the affiliates and the advertisers, supported the idea of prime time, beginning of the week football. “But I thought there was something special about football,” Arledge said, “because there are so few games, and relatively few teams. Also, there is something about the look of a night game, with the lights bouncing off the helmets.”

It was not only the lights that made watching Arledge-style football on ABC an event in itself. The games were transformed into events through Arledge’s jazzy technical innovations and through a new style of sportscaster embodied in Howard Cosell. ABC was the first network not to allow announcer approval by the league from which it was purchasing broadcast rights. “CBS had been the basic football network. They treated it like a religion and would almost never criticize it,” Arledge said. “But if you screwed up on Monday Night Football, Cosell would let everyone know about it.” Arledge proudly points out that the program “changed the habits of the nation.”

In 1968, Arledge was promoted to president of ABC Sports, where for the next 18 years his job was his hobby, as he describes it: good because he watched sports for work rather than leisure, but bad because then he had no time left for leisure. He made sportsmen into stars, a trend he would later bring to the news division where he lured big guns such as David Brinkley and Diane Sawyer and paid unheard-of salaries, including the first million-dollar contract to Barbara Walters.[4]

1980s and 1990s: Disney purchase and ESPN integration

The seeds of its eventual integration with ESPN occurred when ABC bought majority control of ESPN in 1984. A year later, Capital Cities Communications bought ABC. Although some ESPN sportscasters such as John Saunders and Dick Vitale began to also appear on ABC Sports telecasts, ESPN and ABC Sports continued to operate separately.

After The Walt Disney Company bought Capital Cities/ABC in 1996, Disney started to slowly integrate ESPN and ABC Sports. ESPN personalities like Chris Berman, Mike Tirico and Brad Nessler worked on ABC Sports programs. In 1998, ESPN adopted ABC Sports' Monday Night Football graphics and music for its Sunday Night Football broadcasts. During that same year, ESPN signed a five-year deal to televise National Hockey League (NHL) games, whereby the cable network essentially bought time on ABC to air selected NHL games. This was noted in copyright beds at the conclusion of the telecasts, i.e. "The preceding program has been paid for by ESPN, Inc." ESPN then signed a similar television rights contract in 2002 so it could produce and broadcast National Basketball Association (NBA) games on ABC.

ESPN graphics also appeared on ABC's telecasts of motor sports events like IndyCar and NASCAR during this period.

Early 2000s: Continued integration

Between 2000 and 2002, many ABC Sports programs utilized graphics almost identical to those of ESPN. One notable exception was Monday Night Football, which switched to different graphics as part of then-new producer Don Ohlmeyer's attempt to provide some new vigor into those telecasts. From 2002 to 2005, ABC changed graphics each fall, while ESPN's basically remained consistent.

Meanwhile, Disney continued to consolidate the corporate structure of ESPN and ABC Sports. Steve Bornstein was given the title as president of both ESPN and ABC Sports in 1996. The sales, marketing, and production departments of both divisions were eventually merged. Thus, ESPN uses some union production crews for its coverage (as the networks normally do), whereas non-union personnel is quite common in cable sports broadcasting.

Late 2000s: The end of ABC Sports

It was announced in August 2006 that ABC Sports would be totally integrated into ESPN, using ESPN graphics, music, and production. The brand integration does not directly affect whether the ESPN cable channel or ABC carries a particular event, as in most cases this is governed by contracts with the applicable league or organization. Perhaps confusingly, this means that some events are broadcast with ESPN branding during ABC coverage, even though another channel owns the cable rights. For example, TNT owned cable rights to the British Open from 2003 to 2009 (with ABC picking up weekend coverage). Also, since 2009, IndyCar Series rights are currently split between ABC and Versus (now the NBC Sports Network). IndyCar fans who criticize ESPN on ABC broadcasting have used "Always Bad Coverage" as a derogatory backronym.[5]

The last live sporting event televised under the ABC Sports banner was the United States Championship Game in the Little League World Series on Saturday, August 26, 2006 (ABC was slated to carry the Little League World Series Championship Game on Sunday, August 27, but the game was postponed to Monday August 28 due to rain, subsequently airing on ESPN2). The changeover took effect the following weekend to coincide with the start of the college football season, with NBA, IndyCar Series, and NASCAR coverage eventually following suit.

However, ABC used its own graphics (with the ABC logo), to cover the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, similar to the older-styled ESPN graphics but with a yellow base. In 2008, though, it used the newer yellow and red ESPN graphics which had been used on other recent telecasts but also with the ABC logo.

ESPN, ABC Sports, and Hearst

Despite the rebranding, it appears that ABC Sports continues to exist, at least nominally, as a division of the ABC network. One indication of this was that George Bodenheimer's official title remained "President, ESPN Inc. and ABC Sports" even after the rebranding – the second part would presumably be unnecessary if ESPN had fully absorbed ABC's sports operations – though following Bodenheimer's retirement at the end of 2011, the latter title has been retired.[6] In addition, ABC itself maintains the copyright over many of the ESPN-branded broadcasts, if they are not contractually assigned to the applicable league or organizer, suggesting that ESPN has merely "loaned" usage of its brand name, staff, and infrastructure to ABC, rather than having acquired ABC Sports outright.

This is likely a minor technicality stemming from ESPN being technically a joint venture of Disney (80%) and the Hearst Corporation (20%). Disney has long exercised operating control of the network, while Hearst is believed to be more of a silent partner rather than an active participant in ESPN's management. However, this relationship does mean that Hearst's ABC affiliates, such as WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, WCVB-TV in Boston, WMUR-TV in Manchester, New Hampshire, WISN-TV in Milwaukee and KMBC-TV in Kansas City, have first right of refusal on the local simulcasts of ESPN-televised Monday Night Football games involving home-market teams, which are very rarely waived to other stations in their markets. Equally, other Hearst stations such as NBC affiliate WBAL-TV in Baltimore have been able to air NFL games from ESPN for the same reason (WMOR-TV in the Tampa Bay Area is also eligible to air these games, but rarely if ever does so).[7] Under NFL broadcasting rules, the league's cable games must be simulcast on broadcast television in the local markets of the teams playing, though the home team's market does not get the game if it does not sell out 72 hours before kickoff – games that are not sold out must be blacked out in the market of origin. Similar rules and rights were previously in place for ESPN-televised Major League Baseball playoff games, except non-sold out games were not blacked out (MLB does not black out games based on attendance, but rather to protect local broadcasters). ABC owned-and-operated stations also have right of first refusal for NFL (and previously MLB playoff) simulcasts from ESPN, though in recent years the stations have passed on the game in favor of ABC's Monday night schedule, which includes the popular Dancing with the Stars.[8]

ESPN has since been criticized for decreasing the amount of sports on ABC. Even several ABC affiliates have voiced opposition regarding the increasing migration of live sporting events from ABC to ESPN.[9] An example is the broadcasting of NASCAR. From 2007 to 2009, ABC showed all of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races, along with one other race. Since 2010, ABC only shows three Sprint Cup races with only one Chase race (Charlotte) to the outrage of many NASCAR fans and sponsors. Several other events such as college football's Rose Bowl Game, golf's British Open, and the Capital One Bowl have also been moved from ABC to ESPN (although the Capital One Bowl will return to ABC for the 2013 season). This, however, is not entirely the fault of ESPN, as ABC in general has attracted primarily female viewers in recent years, with sports largely attracting a male-dominated audience.[10]

The decrease in sports events televised by ABC result in the network having a very inconsistent weekend afternoon sports schedule similar (if not equal) to Fox, with ESPN-produced sports specials and/or ABC-supplied rerun blocks of certain primetime network shows as well as syndicated programs and infomercials scheduled by the network's affiliates filling the weekend afternoon schedule on days when the network is not scheduled to air a sporting event.


Until 2001, ABC Sports programs ended with the line "This has been a presentation of ABC Sports - Recognized around the world as the leader in sports television." Beginning in 2001, ABC changed the tagline to "ABC Sports - Championship Television," in regards to ABC's sports lineup (which included the BCS championship, the MLS Cup final, the Stanley Cup Finals, rights to Super Bowl coverage, and would later include the NBA Finals). Ever since the ESPN on ABC integration, the ESPN tagline – "This has been a presentation of ESPN - The Worldwide Leader in Sports" – has been used at the end of each broadcast on ABC.

Programs throughout the years

Current programs

Additional programming

  • ABC also airs The Open Championship Today, a condensed version of ESPN's Saturday and Sunday coverage of the British Open, as well as one-hour versions of the final rounds of the Senior and Women's British Opens.
  • ABC rebroadcasts ESPN's coverage of the Gentlemen's and Ladies' singles finals from Wimbledon, as well as a highlight show on the Championships' rest day.
  • ABC rebroadcasts ESPN2's coverage of the New York City Marathon, which also airs live on WABC in New York.

Former programs

Notable personalities





Studio hosts





Studio hosts

Behind the scenes


ABC Sports


Main competitors


External links

  • ESPN on ABC Website
  • Saunders: ABC's demise signals end of an era
  • What to Watch: Rest in peace, ABC Sports
  • The Evolution of ABC
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