- For the Canadian channel of this name, see ESPN Classic (Canada). For the British channel, see ESPN Classic (UK). For the Italian channel, see ESPN Classic (Italy).
ESPN Classic is a sports channel that features reruns of famous sporting events, sports documentaries, and sports themed movies. Such programs includes biographies of famous sports figures or a rerun of a famous World Series or Super Bowl, often with added commentary on the event. As of late 2009, ESPN Classic is the only remaining member of the ESPN family and the only Disney network that is not available in high definition, due to the majority of its content being vintage footage produced before the days of high definition television.
Launched in 1995 as Classic Sports Network by Brian Bedol and Steve Greenberg, with partial funding from Allen & Company, it was purchased for $175 million and renamed by ESPN (80% owned by Disney, 20% owned by Hearst) in 2000. The current logo incorporates the "boxer" logo that Classic Sports Network used. (Bedol and Greenberg went on to found CSTV (now CBS Sports Network).
- See also ESPN significant programming rights
In a cost-cutting move, the schedule (as of December, 2008) is largely composed of ESPN original programming, highlighting sports such as poker, bowling, and boxing, with less emphasis on re-airing 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, it 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".
It is the only U.S.-based ESPN network (and one of two Disney-owned cable channels in the U.S.; ABC Family being the other) to air infomercials; they air from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. ET, seven days a week. As of May 20, 2012, it is the final ESPN network to both not have a companion simulcast channel in high definition, and outside of specific programming in widescreen, airs all programming with a 4:3 analog aspect ratio.
Older sports programming from the nineties and earlier have almost entirely moved to their respective networks. These networks include The Big Ten Network, MLB Network, NBA TV, NHL Network, NFL Network, and The Tennis Channel.
As of 2011, the channel has drifted toward reruns of entertainment series in prime time, while movies (mostly ESPN Films productions and documentaries such as the 30 for 30 series) make up the majority of ESPN Classic's weekend schedule. The majority of "classic" sports in ESPN Classic's library are college football and basketball games from the past decade.
AWA Championship Wrestling (originally aired on ESPN from 1986–1990)
- Battle of the Network Stars
- Bay City Blues
60 Minutes on Classic (2004–2008, in reruns)
- Friday Night Lights
Home Run Derby (2009–present)
- Jim Rome Classics
- The Joe Namath Show
Stump the Schwab (2006, originally aired on ESPN2 from 2004–2005)
- Reel Classics
- Schaap One-on-One
Soccer City (2010)
- Sunday Morning Classics
2 Minute Drill (2006, 2009 present; originally aired on ESPN from 2000–2001)
The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... (2009 present; originally aired on ESPN2 from 2005 2007)
The Way It Was (2004–2006; 2009)
- The White Shadow
- Who's No. 1?
- Wide World of Sports
American Gladiators (2007–2009, originally aired in syndication from 1989–1996)
Celebrity Bowling (2010)
- Cheap Seats
Classic Now (2005–2006)
- ESPN Classic Remembers
- Fantasy Insider
- Greatest Sports Legends
- Instant Classic
Missing Link (2007)
NCAA on Campus (formerly on Fox Sports Net, currently on CBS College Sports)
NFL Films (currently on NFL Network)
- SportsCenter of the Decade
- Sports Challenge
UWF Wrestling (2008, originally aired on ESPN2 in 1995)
- This Week In Baseball
Broadcasting of live events
The first live event to be shown on ESPN Classic was the implosion of the Seattle Kingdome 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 which featured veteran commentators and older-styled graphics. At 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 additional college football and basketball games, the "ESPN Classic Game of the Week" (a Sunday rebroadcast of a ESPN/ABC-televised college football game from the past 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. ESPN Classic was also the official broadcaster of the annual Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony until 2009 (when these moved to MLB Network).
While not a live event, in 2008 ESPN Classic also notably broadcast an originally untelevised college basketball game played on January 23, 2008 between Baylor and Texas A&M, which was won by Baylor 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.
Fan interactive specials
A recent development of ESPN Classic is a series of specials in which fan balloting determines the greatest teams in the history of particular sports. 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. The first votes are cast one week before the scheduled live show, and balloting continues online and via text messaging until the end of the show.
Cessation of original programming
On January 14, 2007, Deadspin.com reported that ESPN Classic would no longer create or air original programming. It was not immediately clear what would replace that programming, however, it was assumed that such shows 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 did air as scheduled. However, Missing Link was cancelled in June 2007, at which time production was also halted on the other two shows. The long-term future of ESPN Classic appears to be uncertain.
However, ESPN Classic still airs occasional live sporting events if neither ESPN nor ESPN2 are available to carry them. Some examples from the third quarter of 2007:
- WNBA basketball, Sacramento Monarchs at Seattle Storm, July 31 (originally on ESPN2, moved due to a game in which Barry Bonds attempted to tie the all-time Major League Baseball home run record and ESPN's airing of an episode of The Bronx is Burning). Also, game 1 of that league's Western Conference final between the Phoenix Mercury and the San Antonio Silver Stars on August 30 was moved here, as ESPN2 aired college football between Tulsa and Louisiana-Monroe. (Also, the WNBA did not want the game to start at the originally-scheduled time of 10 p.m. ET as it was being played in San Antonio, Texas, where the local time was 9 p.m. Had the game started at 10 p.m., it would have aired on ESPN2.)
- IndyCar racing, Firestone Indy 400, August 5 (moved from ESPN2 due to rain delay)
- Two preliminary round games of USA Basketball in the FIBA Americas Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 22 and 23 and the USA vs. Puerto Rico semifinal on September 1 (ESPN2 had obtained rights, but had other program commitments)
- The third quarter of the WNBA playoff game between the Indiana Fever and Connecticut Sun on August 23, 2007. Again, this was scheduled for ESPN2, but there was a game in the Little League World Series preceding it. After an entire half went untelevised, ESPN Classic decided to pull a rebroadcast of a Major League Soccer game in favor of replacing ESPN2 as Chinese Taipei and Japan continued a game that went very long by Little League standards. Japan would win the game in 10 innings, and ESPN2 picked up the coverage in the fourth quarter. Ironically, the WNBA game would set a record for longest playoff game as the Sun defeated the Fever in triple overtime.
- Two Champ Car World Series races in September and one in October (as mentioned above).
Since then, these games or events have been shown live on ESPN Classic:
- The 2008 Indy Japan 300, which was won by Danica Patrick (first female winner of an Indy Car event.
- The entirety of the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series Lipton Tea 250. The race was simulcasted with Speed and ESPN360.com, as ESPN2 was obligated to an NBA playoff game during the scheduled time of the race. (ESPN2 would later join the race in progress and air it in its entirety on tape delay.) In addition, the network had planned to air the 2008 Sharpie Mini 300, picking up the coverage from ABC, had it continued; however, NASCAR called the race before its conclusion (171 out of 300 laps) because of rain. Clint Bowyer was declared the race winner.
- The College World Series game between the University of Georgia and Fresno State University on June 22, 2008, as there were a couple of days of rain-outs, and due to a baseball game on ESPN, and drag racing on ESPN2, the game was forced to air on ESPN Classic.
- The following World Cup qualifying matches: United States and Cuba on October 11, 2008, the November 19 match between the United States and Guatemala, and the USA-El Salvador match on September 5, 2009.
- The opening 5 minutes of Winter X Games, on January 30, 2010. The event aired on ESPN2 a few minutes later, due to a Indiana-Illinois game running late.
- The first hour of the Super Regional game between Texas A&M and Florida State on June 11, 2011, due to a rain delay in the Virginia-UC Irvine game.
NFL Network partnership
In a report from The Wall Street Journal, Steve Bornstein, chief executive of the NFL Network, has 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 combining NFL Network with ESPN Classic which has a wide distribution on expanded basic cable line-ups but attracts a modest audience. ESPN could use its market weight and demand more than the 16 to 17 cents per month that it currently receives from ESPN Classic. Though a full merger has, as of yet, not materialized, ESPN networks and NFL Network have begun sharing programming (for instance, an episode of NFL's Greatest Games will air on NFL Network one night, then air on ESPN2 the next).
Dish Network lawsuit
On August 4, 2009 Dish Network sued ESPN for $1 million in a federal lawsuit, alleging that ESPN breached its contract by not extending the same carriage terms the programmer provided to Comcast and DirecTV for ESPNU and ESPN Classic. The lawsuit claims ESPN violated the "Most Favored Nations" clause.
The next day, ESPN announced they will fight the lawsuit and said in a press release: "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 popular culture
In a recurring series of Saturday Night Live skits ESPN Classic is parodied. The scenes are archived obscure women's sportscasts from the 1980s such as bowling, weight lifting and curling, with announcers who know nothing about the sport, and instead focus on promoting the sponsors, which are always women's hygiene products.
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