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ESPN: Everywhere Sports Profit Network

How did the Bristol-based sports channel become the world’s most powerful media brand? It never forgot the fans
"Men in makeup talking about sports": The set of 'SportsCenter'
"Men in makeup talking about sports": The set of 'SportsCenter'Photograph by Brian Finke for Bloomberg Businessweek

ESPN’s global headquarters span 18 buildings and 123 acres in Bristol, Conn. The campus occupies a fenced-in hillside, though deer frequently end up trapped inside the fence, and appears to be in a state of constant flux. The newest and largest building, a 193,000-square-foot digital broadcasting center, intended to supplement the 90,000-sq.-ft. digital broadcasting center that was built in 2004, is located not far from the football field—yes, there is a football field—and is two years from completion. ESPN, a unit of Walt Disney, has thrived on transformation, from its inauspicious start in a couple of trailers on this very location to its relentless embrace of new media, which has helped make it among the most profitable television networks in American history.

The company’s revenues are growing at 9 percent a year, with a projected $8.2 billion in revenue in 2012, according to research firm SNL Kagan. Head count has doubled in the last seven years to 7,000 employees worldwide. ESPN earns one out of every four dollars earned by cable stations in America. According to SNL Kagan, ESPN charges its cable affiliates an average $5.13 per month for each of its 100 million subscribers (the industry average is about 20¢ per subscriber) while also taking in $2 billion a year in advertising revenue. Its projected 2013 revenue of close to $9 billion dwarfs cable players like Liberty Media and Tribune and puts it on par with traditional broadcast networks like CBS. The company’s president, John Skipper, attributes ESPN’s dominance to geography, a high tolerance for risk, and a culture of “build, build, build. There comes a time when a lot of businesses become calcified, but we never stop building.”