This article needs to be updated.October 2014)(
|Launched||May 6, 1995|
|Owned by||ESPN Inc.|
(The Walt Disney Company (80%)
Hearst Communications (20%))
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)|
|Formerly called||Classic Sports Network (1995-1997)|
ESPN Classic (Europe)
|Dish Network||Available from ESPN On Demand|
|Available on most cable systems||Channel slots vary on each provider|
|AT&T U-verse||Channel 603|
|PlayStation Vue||Internet Protocol Television|
ESPN Classic is an American pay television network that is owned by ESPN Inc., a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company (which owns a controlling 80% stake) and Hearst Communications (which owns 20%). The channel features rebroadcasts of famous sporting events, sports documentaries and sports-themed movies. Such programs include biographies of famous sports figures or a rerun of a marquee World Series or Super Bowl game, often with added commentary on the event.
On October 1, 2014, ESPN Classic began a gradual transition into a video on demand-only service, with Dish Network becoming the first to discontinue carriage of the linear channel and carry it as a VOD service on that date. Other providers will follow suit on an unknown timetable. In December 2017, cable companies Comcast Xfinity and Altice USA dropped the ESPN Classic linear channel from their TV lineups. On February 4, 2019, Verizon FiOS removed the channel from the lineup.
The channel was launched on May 6, 1995 as the Classic Sports Network. The Ada, Oklahoma location of Post Newsweek cable with 6,500 subscribers was the first cable system to carry the programming. CSN was founded by Brian Bedol and Steve Greenberg (son of Hank Greenberg), both of whom went on to launch College Sports Television (now CBS Sports Network)), with partial funding from Allen & Company. Initial programming for Classic Sports Network came in large part from Tom Ficara and TVS Television Network, who licensed 300 classic sports events from its TVS catalog. In 1997, ESPN, Inc. purchased Classic Sports Network for $175 million and relaunched it as ESPN Classic the following year. Throughout its history, dating back to its existence as Classic Sports Network, the channel's logo has incorporated a stylized silhouette intending to resemble a boxer.
In February 2008, The Wall Street Journal reported that NFL Network chief executive Steve Bornstein had been in "high-level discussions" with NFL and Disney executives including CEO Robert Iger and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. An analyst quoted in the report suggested a merger of NFL Network with ESPN Classic due to the latter's wide distribution on expanded basic cable tiers. Though a consolidation of the two channels did not materialize, ESPN's networks and NFL Network would begin to share programming (for instance, an episode of NFL's Greatest Games may air on NFL Network one night, then air on ESPN2 the next). Eventually however, NFL Network was able to obtain full carriage on most providers on its own by the middle of the 2012 season, no longer necessitating a need to merge the two channels.
On August 4, 2009, Dish Network filed a federal lawsuit against ESPN for $1 million, alleging that the network breached its contract by not extending the same contractual term of carriage that ESPN provided to Comcast and DirecTV for ESPNU and ESPN Classic. The lawsuit claimed that ESPN violated the "Most Favored Nations" clause. The following day, representatives for ESPN announced in a press release that the company would fight the lawsuit, stating: "We have repeatedly advised Dish that we are in full compliance with our agreement and have offered them a distribution opportunity with respect to ESPNU and ESPN Classic consistent with the rest of the industry. We will not renegotiate settled contracts and will vigorously defend this legal action, the apparent sole purpose of which is to get a better deal."
In 2008, as part of a cost-cutting move, ESPN Classic's schedule began to become largely composed of ESPN original programming, highlighting sports such as poker, bowling and boxing, with a decreased emphasis on rebroadcasts of classic major league sporting events (a practice which has, however, been adopted by sports networks associated with a league or individual teams, among other channels). Since 2005, the channel has also frequently broadcast overflow programming from the main ESPN channels, and reruns of ESPN-produced telecasts of recent sporting events that the network has declared an "Instant Classic".
ESPN Classic is the only U.S.-based ESPN network (and one of two Disney-owned cable channels in the U.S., alongside Freeform) that airs infomercials, which run daily from 6:00 to 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time. As of May 20, 2012, ESPN Classic is the only remaining ESPN-branded network and the only cable channel owned by Disney that does not operate a high definition simulcast feed, due to the majority of its content being vintage footage produced before the existence of high-definition television; outside of specific programming available in widescreen, the channel airs all programming in the 4:3 aspect ratio, and it uses the safe area-restricted "BottomLine" sports news ticker previously used by ESPN on ABC broadcasts on sister network ABC until August 2016 when it switched to a 16:9 presentation. It is also the only ESPN network that is not available on the network's WatchESPN app for mobile devices as a live feed, likely due to licensing restrictions for the archival content aired on the channel; the few live events it does carry are otherwise listed as provided by ESPN3 on WatchESPN. The network's VOD component was launched for existing subscribers using Apple TV and Roku devices through WatchESPN on April 28, 2016, likely under a modified license to allow content distribution via that platform.
Older sports programming from the 1990s and earlier has moved almost entirely to league-specific networks including the Big Ten Network, MLB Network, NBA TV, NHL Network, NFL Network, Tennis Channel, or various team-owned regional sports networks. Likewise, archival games from the Southeastern Conference and the University of Texas Longhorns have respectively moved to the ESPN-operated SEC Network and Longhorn Network.
By 2011, ESPN Classic drifted toward a mix of reruns of entertainment series in prime time, and movies (mostly ESPN Films productions and documentaries such as the 30 for 30 series) making up the majority of the channel's weekend schedule. The majority of "classic" sports events in ESPN Classic's program library today are college football and basketball games from the past decade which have not been claimed by conference networks, along with boxing, professional wrestling and bowling events whose copyrights are maintained solely by ESPN.
The first live event to be shown on ESPN Classic was the implosion of the Kingdome in Seattle in March 2000. By 2005 however, ESPN Classic began to broadcast more live sporting events, such as special "ESPN Classic Live" telecasts of college basketball games that featured veteran commentators and older-styled graphics. Around this time, ESPN Classic also began to be used as an overflow channel for programming that could not be shown on ESPN or ESPN2 due to scheduling conflicts (these have since been moved to ESPNEWS); these have included additional college football and basketball games, the "ESPN Classic Game of the Week" (a Sunday rebroadcast of an ESPN/ABC-televised college football game from the previous Saturday), IRL events, live coverage of selected HBCU games (especially since the term "classic" is used for special neutral-site HBCU games), and tape-delayed UEFA Champions League soccer games.
Examples of live sporting events broadcast by ESPN Classic due to scheduling overruns on ESPN or ESPN2, include the following from the third quarter of 2007:
Since then, these games or events have been shown live on ESPN Classic:
ESPN Classic also served as the official broadcaster of the annual Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony until 2009 (when it moved to MLB Network). On August 25, 2012, ESPN Classic aired an Atlantic League baseball game between the Sugar Land Skeeters and Bridgeport Bluefish; the game featured Major League Baseball legend Roger Clemens as a starting pitcher for the Skeeters. (In 2014, ESPN acquired permanent rights to Skeeters games, but moved the games to its online portal, ESPN3.)
While not a live event, in 2008 ESPN Classic also notably broadcast a previously untelevised college basketball game played on January 23, 2008 between Baylor and Texas A&M, which Baylor won 116-110 in five overtimes. Due to an unlikely set of circumstances, the actual game, held at Reed Arena on the A&M campus, was never televised. ESPN Classic used the feeds from the arena's in-house cameras, normally used to allow highlights to be displayed on Jumbotron screens, and the original play-by-play and commentary from A&M's radio broadcasters to create a complete telecast. The telecast aired on March 5, 2008 on ESPN Classic before the rematch between the two teams at Baylor aired on ESPN2.
ESPN Classic is also used for ESPN's multiple-perspective telecasts under the Full Circle and Megacast brands; in these cases, ESPN Classic usually carries the event in question without commentary and only ambient venue noise.
Beginning in the mid-2000s, ESPN Classic aired a series of specials counting down the greatest teams in the history of certain sports, as determined by fan balloting. In March 2006, the 1981-82 North Carolina Tar Heels won the fan poll for best-ever college basketball team, in October 2006, the 1927 New York Yankees won for best Major League Baseball team, and in December 2006, the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers won the fan poll for best-ever college football team.
Each of these programs features expert analysis and live interactive voting online at ESPN.com, with the first votes being cast one week before the scheduled live show and continued balloting online and via text messaging until the end of the show.
On January 14, 2007, Deadspin.com reported that ESPN Classic would no longer develop or air original programming. It was not immediately clear what would replace such programs, however, it was assumed that shows that were already produced, but not yet aired, would be broadcast at least for a few more months.
Over the next few months, new episodes of Missing Link, Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame and Ringside aired as scheduled. However, Missing Link was cancelled in June 2007, at which time production was also halted on the other two programs.
ESPN Classic has been parodied in a recurring series of Saturday Night Live skits. The sketches depict archived broadcasts of obscure women's sports events from the 1980s such as bowling, weightlifting and curling. The announcers, Pete Twinkle and Greg Stink (played by Jason Sudeikis and Will Forte, respectively), consistently know nothing about the sport, and instead focus on promoting the sponsors, which are always women's hygiene products.