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Goodbye ABC Sports, hello ESPN on ABC

Network to drop sports brand, turn programming over to cable partner
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

An era will come to an end next month when the ABC Sports brand that popularized “The Wide World of Sports” and “Monday Night Football” will pass into history.

Sept. 2 will usher in a new logo and look for the broadcast network’s sports, “ESPN on ABC.” It will wipe away all traces of the ABC Sports brand, which began in the early 1960s with “Wide World” and then blossomed with Roone Arledge and the ascendancy of “Monday Night Football.”

While there will be an ABC bug in the bottom right corner, everything else will be ESPN-branded — graphics, scoreboards, sets and the names of programs, from “SportsCenter” to “ESPN College GameDay.” It will be clear on promos, however, that advertised games will be on ABC and not ESPN.

“We believe that by expanding the ESPN brand to the ABC television network ... we’ll be able to serve fans better,” ESPN/ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer said Thursday.

The move, while provoking wistful feelings in old-timers, wasn’t a shock to many in today’s sports industry. ABC Sports had been slowly integrated into the larger ESPN universe over the past several years, beginning with the integration of the sales departments and then the 2003 the appointment of Bodenheimer as the head of ABC Sports as well as ESPN. A reorganization last year brought ABC Sports’ programming and production under ESPN, and since then it has been the name that is the only thing that remained of ABC Sports.

The change is likely to matter more to the older TV viewer who remembers the glory days of “MNF” and “Wide World” under the leadership of Arledge and such on-air legends as Jim McKay and Howard Cosell. McKay is retired, and Arledge and Cosell have died.

Former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson said Thursday that ESPN’s move reflects the reality of the sports TV business. As a self-professed “old-timer” who has been in the business for 30 years, he said he was comfortable with the change.

“I think the tradition of ABC Sports has been incorporated within ESPN,” Pilson said. “ think your next question is what would Roone Arledge think, and I’ll tell you Roone could never have anticipated the media world of 2006. If he had or if he was alive today, I think he would support the move because of the power of the ESPN brand.”