Bill Rasmussen Headshot
Report a problem with this profile
[email protected]

Bill Rasmussen      

Founder of ESPN; Legendary Entrepreneur; Strategic Business Advisor

It is safe to say that Bill Rasmussen changed the face of sports and the face of television. His brainstorm for a 24-hour cable sports television station, born out of adversity, has become the Worldwide Leader in Sports—ESPN. Bill is the man with that dream. He founded ESPN in the summer of 1978, and had his innovative brainstorm for an all-sports cable TV network within days of his firing by the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association on Memorial Day weekend. His idea for an all-sports cable TV network captured his imagination, and he incorporated the fledgling network on July 14, 1978. He had already begun to seek out cable television companies, sponsors, investors, and partners. With an idea that was truly ahead of its time, and running out of cash, Bill found one investor who believed in the concept in February 1979, and by September 7, 1979, ESPN was on the air for the first time—just 14 months after his moment of inspiration.

A lifelong entrepreneur and sports fan, Bill's innovations in advertising, sports, and broadcasting are numerous and include not only the creation of ESPN, but also the concept for Sports Center, which provides wall-to-wall coverage of NCAA regular-season and "March Madness" college basketball, as well as coverage of the College World Series. He broke the advertising barrier to cable television by signing Anheuser Busch to the largest cable TV advertising contract ever.

Bill's entrepreneurial daring, his irrepressible enthusiasm, and a dash of good luck gave the world the first 24-hour television network. Once unleashed upon sports fans, ESPN's impact forever changed the way we watch television. Bill is the author of the best-selling book, "Sports Junkies Rejoice! The Birth of ESPN." Bill tells the inside story of the birth of ESPN in the book.

In addition to his role as the "George Washington of ESPN"—as longtime ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman has tagged him—Bill served as a consultant to the Big Ten Conference as well as several of the member institutions on television matters. He has been at the helm of numerous other startup companies both in traditional media and on the Internet.

Bill is a frequent guest on radio and television shows, including recent appearances on the nationally-syndicated radio shows "Sports Byline USA with Ron Barr" and "The Dennis Miller Show" and the cable television interview show "It's Your Call." He has also been a featured guest on the FOX News Channel's "Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld."

He has received many awards and honors over his career. Named "The Father of Cable Sports" by USA Today, Bill was named to "The Sports 100," honoring the 100 most important people in American sports history. His place in sports history was further recognized by Sports Illustrated in 1994, when he was honored as one of the "40 for the Ages," one of 40 individuals who has significantly altered and elevated the world of sport in the last half of the twentieth century. He has been awarded the Bill Conners Communications Award from the Jim Thorpe Association and is currently the Executive in Residence at The Robert C. McDermond Center for Management & Entrepreneurship at DePauw University.

Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Bill went to DePauw University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in Economics in 1954. He then served in the United States Air Force before beginning his professional career working for Westinghouse's lamp division (Bloomfield, NJ) in sales and marketing. He later earned his Masters of Business Administration from Rutgers University.

He frequently returns to Bristol, CT for ESPN's annual anniversary celebrations. He is a gifted raconteur and a popular public speaker discussing American entrepreneurship, innovation, and the birth of ESPN. He has spoken at numerous colleges and universities throughout the country and often delivers speeches at private corporate events, trade shows, and fundraising engagements.

Speech Topics

The ESPN Story: From Humble Beginnings to Sports History

What turned out to be one of the greatest success stories in the history of sports television started with a little money and one huge dream. Now as the founder of ESPN, a multi-billion dollar company, Bill Rasmussen is one of the most successful businessmen in America. In this inspiring talk, Bill reveals how even the largest accomplishments begin with small steps and personal dreams. By encouraging even the youngest of entrepreneurs to think outside the box and take meaningful risks, Bill captivates audiences by taking them back in time to the beginnings of the 24-hour sports network that changed the history of television as we know it.

Leadership from Adversity: Opportunities for Reinvention in the Modern Age

ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen got fired from his job working for a Hartford, Connecticut-based professional hockey team and famously turned his struggles around when he took a $9,000 credit card cash advance to create a television network that is currently valued at $66 billion. “This is a guy whose idea gave birth to, arguably, the most successful media story of our time,” said author Jim Miller. Adversity—the loss of his job resulted in one of the greatest entrepreneurial success stories in television history. What can we learn from adversity? How do we react when adversity strikes? What traits do great leaders possess, and how do they handle it? Most of us will face adversity, failure, and possibly even bankruptcy in our lifetime. Will you bow to the circumstance or will you use the experience to find the leadership qualities within you to achieve rather than give up? Whether looking at your career as an individual or more broadly on the path of a company or nonprofit, Bill shares tangible leadership advice as only he can—gripping, insightful, and sure to affect the bottom line in every sense of the term.

The Impact of Evolving Media: Past, Present, and Future

In this thought-provoking presentation, legendary ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen walks us through the history of media innovation—from early days of radio to the three network radio/TV system, then into the advent of cable TV, color television, 24 hour programming. Bill discusses the evolution of media all the way to the internet-age of digital content. Bill also discusses the potential future of self-selected content and programming, pointing out both the advantages and ramifications for consumers and companies. How is media defined in the digital age? What can history teach us about what's to come? And, perhaps most important, how can we use this information to future-forecast the best strategies and innovations for our own endeavors and benefit? Bill deftly takes each audience on an historical journey, using vibrant stories from ESPN and other globally recognized platforms as a foundation to show us not only where we've been, but also where we are going next.


ESPN founder Rasmussen tells his story at Ball State | The Star ...
MUNCIE — Standing on the stage at Ball State's Emens Auditorium, Bill Rasmussen took a step back to 1979. He was presenting his case that January to the ...

Related Speakers View all

More like Bill