The Sports Entrepreneurs Podcast by Marcus Luer

Bernard Stewart, “ESPN - An Insider’s Story”

February 25, 2021

Enjoy our deep dive into the world of ESPN the "worldwide leader in Sports" through Bernard Stewart's eyes and stories. 

Bernard has had an illustrious career at ESPN for 30 years, from the early days of the truly first Sports Network in the world to overseeing its expansions globally and many other roles. Learn how ESPN started, expanded, the challenges and growth stories told by a true insider.


Key Highlights

  1. Coming out of College and Air Force teaching Film and starting independent projects in TV & Movie Production
  2. Start working at a Capital City company, WTNH TV New Haven – first break and being taught the world of “Broadcast Politics”. Created Program called “First Edition”
  3. ESPN – the start of the first Sports Network (1979) - father and son founding team (Bill and Scott Rasmussen) -  RCA’s first Satellite helps to distribute the channel across the US, start-up funding from Getty Oil (US$ 10 million) 
  4. ESPN = Entertainment Sports Programming Network, original programming from Tractor pulling to Softball (only 6 hours a day), major sports still at the big traditional broadcasters 
  5. ESPN Sports Center – iconic show, first time stories beyond the action and beyond the 3 min News highlights on traditional TV
  6. John Malone (Liberty Media), true leader in Cable growth and expansion and support of ESPN (the content piece)  – meeting with ESPN and Malone group, game changer in revenue share model
  7. Getting into the big League sports, MLB and NFL – didn’t come cheap – ability to pay purely because of large and growing cable fees (affiliate fees)
  8. A reflection on market reported numbers - ESPN in 2020,  US$ 11 billion Revenue, US$ 8.6 billion in Affiliate fees versus US$ 2.3b in advertising (only) – game changer 
  9. His producer Role – creating “stories” and working around broadcast embargos, etc -  1984 Olympics in LA and Sarajevo 
  10. 1983 America’s Cup – first time the US teams loses the Cup in 132 years – Bernard had a crew at event from the start to capture the drama while its unfolding, big success 
  11. Short sting at WBZ TV Boston before Round 2 at ESPN as Director Program Planning – it’s a monster to plan (war room to map out two year worth of programming), together with Program Acquisition team 
  12. Shaping the sports world through smart programming and connecting different parts of the industry 
  13. First overseas action – Australian group showed up, trailer in Parking Lot, recording content and shipping tapes to Australia  - syndication by tapes at that time 
  14. TV Conferences and Conventions – big part of the push for ESPN going global - new Sandbox to play in – develop international division (syndicating US content globally)
  15. Sportel history - Monte Carlo, Monaco early days – reminiscing on how it all started and ESPN’s – “the worldwide leader in Sports” role to shape the industry  
  16. Moving to Hong Kong as VP & GM of ESPN Asia Pacific – the opportunities and challenges to take the brand globally – understand, listen and being sensitive to local differences, get a seat on the table first - Disney buying ESPN in mid 90s and leaving it mostly alone 
  17. ESPN/Star Sports (ESS) world – ESPN & Murdoch JV in Asia – his view as a Board Member – how it started (my view) and his inside stories   
  18. The challenges of how to make it work and Marcus recent discussion with a Senior executive in the new ESPN/Disney lead Fox Sports Asia – Bernard’s career in a nutshell, creating opportunities - History of Cricket program example 
  19. Look at the current world of Sports Media Rights and Cable industry vs OTT dynamics – reverse world – shrinking Cable subscriptions
    1. Disney+,  ESPN+,  Netflix and big growth of OTT      
  20. ESPN+ USD 5.99 in the US -  cannibalization of business model? Is the House on fire or not discussion?
  21. Value for money philosophy ingrained in Disney and how that shapes their decision making – price vs value – and change with the times
  22. Disney & ESPN doubling down by purchasing FOX Sports channels globally (over US$ 70 billion transaction) -  his view, it’s about repositioning by Murdoch 
  23. SPACs – 60-70 launched over the past 12 months, new directions and new opportunities for the big players 
  24. Wrapping up with Bernard’s current roles and projects, back at writing scripts and film making, working with family offices raising funds for slate of films (AJE3 Studios –
  25. E-Zero – Ecological Zero idea



Bernard Stewart was a member of the original creative team that started SportsCenter and ESPN. During his extended career with ESPN, Bernard's senior executive roles included the development and management of long-term strategies for ESPN’s International family of networks. He was the company's most senior executive for all of Asia including India; Oceania (Australia, NZ); the Pacific (Japan), and the Caribbean.

After a lengthy career with the Walt Disney Company/ESPN, Bernard founded an entertainment, lifestyle, and production company. AJE3 Studios has a very active list of projects that include Family Office advisory, Film and Television, digital platform development, website design, and Branding Marketing.

Bernard's content development and acquisition experiences include directed high profile rights negotiations for premier world events including The FIFA World Cup, The Olympics, and The UEFA Champions League. He was a program executive involved in the development of the ESPY's; launched international versions of SportsCenter and an Emmy nominated producer, and have created or developed over 30 original series and multi-platform program concepts for network, digital, and syndication distribution.

Bernard is recognized as a featured international industry speaker with appearances that include Renmin University, The Peoples Republic of China; International Trade Specialist for the United States at The Bahamas Copyright Stakeholder Summit; the Jamaica Sports Business Summit on Global Brand building, and a featured speaker and Advisor to the Jamacia International Fim Festival.

Author of the business management and life coaching book, “Fifty50 - A Guide to a Successful Work-Life Balance”.


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