Sports Television: Why ESPN Is The Crown Jewel

Kids recite its anchorman quips on blacktops across the country (Booyah! En Fuego!). Athletes clamor for a space in its hilarious SportsCenter ads (in one spot, Mark McGwire, a famous recluse, smashed a computer with a bat at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.). President Bush is a SportsCenter fan. According to Beta Research, subscribers and cable-system operators rank ESPN as the most valuable network on cable TV.

ESPN is certainly an MVP at Disney. The company turned the sports network into a 300-lb. fullback that relentlessly pounded cable-system operators with price increases--some 20% annually over the past five years. Because the...

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