ESPN HQ: Aussies abroad

The name Bill Rasmussen*** might not – even to sports fans – mean much to you.

But it should, as Mr. Rasmussen was responsible for the birth, rise and subsequent TV domination that is the sports channel, ESPN.

Across the world, ESPN is now a regular fixture for those lucky enough to have subscription TV.

But in America, ESPN is a staple – it’s on the TV screen inside every bar, restaurant, laundromat and shop.

From a 20-minute sports news show that Mr. Rasmussen delivered to the US people, ESPN is now on as many, if not more platforms than any other channel in the world.

Once again, the lucky pair that we have been so far on our trip, Tom and I managed to secure a pass to take a tour of the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut – located ninety minutes from New York City.

Our entry into ESPN was Australian presenter Jason Bennett, the host of the highly successful series, Aussies Abroad.

Aussies Abroad is a feature program highlighting the exploits of Australian athletes performing on the world stage right across the world.

Jason came up with the Aussies Abroad idea and fortunately, ESPN saw a future in it – that was almost six years ago.

Unlike our own sports channels in Australia, ESPN was founded and first built in the small town of Bristol – a wintry place located in the woods.

Jason and his family (wife and two daughters aged 11 and nine) relocated to Bristol to pursue his Aussies Abroad dream after a successful stint with Fox Footy on the AFL scene.

Arriving into Bristol from hectic NYC, it was refreshing but also a touch confusing as we knew we were about to walk onto the campus of the biggest sports channel on Earth, yet the place was a ghost town.

It hardly seemed like the location for an entity the size of ESPN – but it was and it works, remarkably well.

Touring the ESPN facility required a fair amount of walking – such is the size of it.

Having developed into the monster that it is now, no expense is spared on the campus – from heated pavement to melt the falling snow, to TV walls in the numerous waiting lounges.

Another thing that was immediately noticeable as we walked the facility was the amount of exclusive memorabilia on display.

Off hand, I can recall a Peyton Manning helmet, Muhammed Ali signed gloves, Elgin Baylor and Magic Johnson signed basketballs and a Babe Ruth signed baseball – just to name a few.

The studios where each ESPN program is delivered are all first class, many of which are brand new, or very close to it.

Morning shows First Take and Mike & Mike in the Morning have their own studios whilst the Baseball Tonight set is also nearby, and extremely large in size.

With ESPN ever expanding through more and more TV programs and news presentations, the ESPN heavies also produce a few tricks to cover all bases.

There are far more programs on air currently than there are studios so the floor crew are able to completely alter the look of a set with minimal effort.

Without setting foot on the ESPN facility, it is truly hard to describe the pure size of the campus.

I’ll try though – ESPN employs over 4,000 staff, it occupies two nearby hotels with its expert analysts who mostly fly in and fly out.

There was a full-sized basketball court but that was being ripped up and replaced whilst we were there.

The staff cafeteria is larger than any restaurant in Adelaide, even housing its own Starbucks coffee shop.

And like all good tours, we ended up in the ESPN shop, full of merchandise and memorabilia.

Touring ESPN was a great experience, Tom and I were both blown away by the enormity of the facilities but after talking over lunch with Jason we realised why things needed to be so large.

Having had a few jam-packed days in New York, Jason was kind enough to allow us to stay the night at his lovely hilltop house, just outside of Bristol.

His wife cooked a magnificent home-cooked dinner for us all (something we had missed dearly) and being a Thursday, we went down into Jase’s awesome ‘man-cave’ and watched Thursday Night Football.

A tradition of American life is watching NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball as a family after a huge meal.

Overall, it was an extremely unique and enjoyable experience.

If not for ESPN or family in the area, I am sure Bristol is not on any lists for Aussies tourists but our 24-hours in town was enjoyable as anything on the trip – besides meeting Tommy Brady, of course!!

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