ESPN Makes Disney Very Happy One Lebron James Story At a Time

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY (TheStreet) -- Before 1979, sports media was still in its dark ages. The world's sporting games had their heroes and various and sundry sportswriters who depicted their exploits for newspring, television and radio.

Joe Namath's prediction that the upstart New York Jets would win Super Bowl III in 1969 and Reggie Jackson's three-home run game in the 1977 World Series were examples of the modern athlete transcending daily life to create the mass market moment that stretched well beyond the playing field. And that was just in New York. 

On TV, baseball and basketball had their game of the week while Sundays and Monday night belonged to football. Local newspapers recounted games and Sports Illustrated gave them all a glossy sheen on the national level. It all used to be so quaint.

Then in 1979, someone in Bristol, Conn got the crazy idea of packaging every sport and every region's favorite ballteams into one made-for-Pay-TV package. And nothing in the business of sports, which really is sports, has been the same ever since. 

In the last thirty years, ESPN has risen above the pack in the 24/7 sports news world. Owned by Disney (DIS), ESPN is in TV, radio, print, on a national scale as well as its internet presence.

Disney took over a controlling interest in ESPN as part of the ABC takeover in 1996 when the ABC network and stations were worth just $11 billion. While Disney is now valued at $84 billion, ESPN alone accounts for $40 billion through affiliate fees and ad revenues. ESPN and sister channel ESPN2 have both eclipsed the 100 million viewer mark. Multi-billion-dollar broadcast deals with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Football League have forever changed viewer habits. Monday Night Football, once a pop culture phenomenon, is now a staple of Pay-TV.

What would Howard Cosell think of all of this? (How many readers don't even know what the name Howard Cosell once meant to sports viewing?)

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