Bill Rasmussen

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William F. Rasmussen, also known as Bill Rasmussen is a former Sports Director, Salesman[1] and Marketer and one of the original Founders of ESPN, along with Scott Rasmussen, Ed Egan, Chet Simmons and Bob Beyus.[2] Rasmussen served for a short period as the first president and CEO of ESPN. ESPN was founded on July 14, 1978, took delivery of its first cable truck and was launched on September 7, 1979. Getty Oil invested in the idea in February 1979.

Bill Rasmussen
Born Chicago, Illinois
Known for Founder and First President of ESPN


Early life[edit]

Bill Rasmussen was born in Chicago, Illinois where he attended Gage Park High School. He received a scholarship to attend DePauw University in Indiana, where he met his future wife Mickey. After college, he was a supply officer in the US Air Force. He played baseball (as third baseman) with the hopes of going pro. Parts he procured for the Air Force were used in F-86 and F-89 fighter jets, as well as on Mercury space capsules. His son Scott was born in 1956, the year he was discharged from the military.[3]

Early career[edit]

Rasmussen’s career in the media began with WTTT in Amherst, MA, in 1963. In 1965, he moved to WHYN-TV and then to WWLP-TV, both in Springfield, MA, where he spent eight years as Sports Director and two years as News Director. In 1974 he left Springfield to join hockey’s New England Whalers as Communications Director. At the conclusion of the 1977-78 World Hockey Association season, Rasmussen was fired by the Whalers. Thus began the pursuit of ESPN, incorporating the fledgling network on July 14, 1978.[4]

ESPN Founder[edit]

ESPN, originally called Entertainment and Sports Programming was incorporated on July 14, 1978. It began broadcasting fourteen months later, at 7 p.m. on September 7, 1979.[5] ESPN wound up being headquartered in the sleepy little burg of Bristol, Conn. Rasmussen paid $18,000 for the first acre of ESPN’s now-sprawling campus.[4][6]

Claims of Fraud[edit]

By July 18, 1979 a mere 1 year and 4 days after incorporation and 1 month and 20 days before launch lead investors and key executives were already pushing Rasmussen out.[5][7][8][8]

Beyus lays claim to the real initial funding of the idea and in a recurring theme of those who have done business with Rasmussen, in a interview Beyus is quoted as stating, “Though friendly and soft-spoken, Beyus brashly claimed to be the "father of ESPN" and to "own its birthright." He also argued that Eagan and the Rasmussens "conned" him. He said that he bankrolled the endeavor's initial operations—from phone bills to office supplies—and that he was "squeezed out" by partners who considered him a mere placeholder while they were sniffing around for someone with deeper pockets and better technological resources."[9][10]

Executive in Name Only[edit]

Just prior to the launch of ESPN, according to the historical case study book titled: Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN[11] authored by James Andrew Miller[12] and Tom Shales,[13] and Stuart Evey claimed "I made Bill Chairman, but in no way did I want to give him any responsibility!"[11] "Having Bill Rasmussen play a significant role was just not part of the deal."[14] Rasmussen, although one of several initial executives credited with the ESPN idea, was removed from company prior to launch and had contact with what became ESPN until mid 1999.[6] As John Ourand noted,[14] Rasmussen and ESPN “made amends” in 1999 when then-president George Bodenheimer reached out to the founder for the network’s 20th anniversary.[6][14]

On September 30, 1980, only 1 year and 23 days from the official launch of ESPN, ESPN officials announced that Bill Rasmussen was leaving the company by agreement.[11] At issue in Rasmussen’s departure was his insistence in being called the “Founder of ESPN”. Stuart Evey went ballistic over a plaque Bill Rasmussen had made for his office self-ascribing himself as "Founder". According to the book, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN[11] - Bill Rasmussen is quoted as saying “Stu said – No Way that is going up, get that out of here” and it was never used in the office.[11] The same book documenting interviews of the full cast of ESPN founders quotes J.B. Doherty as saying "It’s arguably a miracle that ESPN survived the Rasmussens"[5][8][11]

Getty Oil purchased 85% of ESPN and left 15% of the enterprise to be split.[15] The other 15 percent was owned by the group of entrepreneurs and speculators who got ESPN off the ground, including the “other founder” Don Rasmussen and Bob Beyus.[9]

Family Squabbles[edit]

From the onset ESPN was plagued with ego troubles and disputes, whereby numerous individuals should have been acknowledged as founders, yet William “Bill” Rasmussen demanded the spotlight.[9] For example: Don Rasmussen was the estranged brother of Bill Rasmussen. Prior to ESPN's launch in 1979, Don and several other members of the Rasmussen clan ponied up thousands of their own dough so Bill—a fast-talking slick by most accounts—could keep the venture afloat while he sniffed around for advertisers, content suppliers, and investors with deeper pockets. Don, who calls himself the "quiet founder of ESPN," claims his brother “tended to view the investments of his fellow Rasmussen’s as personal gifts".[9][15][16]

Don Rasmussen cites deception and fraud by his brother William “Bill” Rasmussen in taking all the credit for founding ESPN. In the book, Just A Guy: An Autobiography by the Quiet Founder of ESPN,[17] Reviewers write about Don’s brother Bill, “While the Rasmussen family was directly involved in the network for only a few years, with Don Rasmussen the last to leave in 1981, it was a tumultuous time for the entire family. Rasmussen details dishonest dealings, disputes over stock shares, and how his brother pressured him to finally leave ESPN by convincing him his firing was imminent."[8][16]

According to the book ‘The ESPN Culture” Bob Beyus deserves the nod as well. “Beyus brashly claimed to be the "father of ESPN" and to "own its birthright."[9] He also argued that Eagan and the Rasmussen’s "conned" him. He said that he bankrolled the endeavor's initial operations—from phone bills to office supplies—and that he was "squeezed out" by partners who considered him a mere placeholder while they were sniffing around for someone with deeper pockets and better technological resources.[9]

Selling stocks[edit]

As documented in the best seller, ESPN Creating an Empire: The No-Holds-Barred Story of Power, Ego, Money, and Vision That Transformed a Culture[18] - Original ESPN Executive and Investors details how just before the launch of ESPN in September 1979 and while Bill Rasmussen knew he was on his way out that:” It was determined before the launch that Bill Rasmussen’s services were no longer needed and he was increasingly disruptive to the organization. We began to get inquiries from banks, Ted Turner’s company, and others who said they had been offered stock in ESPN by Bill Rasmussen. They were planned to pay for the stock, but said they would like to have the stock signed released and signed over to them. We realized Bill was attempting to sell stock that he did not own.[5]

Buying out[edit]

The New York Times reported in 1984,[19] ABC purchased controlling interest in ESPN by buying out Getty Oil’s position. At the time of the Getty Oil buy out, ABC in turn bought out the Rasmussen Families 15% for $6,000,000.[5] New York Times also reported, “Another 13 percent is held by William Rasmussen, the network's founder, and his family, who will also share in the proceeds from the sale."[19] Records show that Rasmussen had to split the $6,000,000 with numerous other investors and funders such as his brother Don Rasmussen and that Rasmussen ended up with $1.2 million[5] and a little over $740,000 after taxes.[5] Bill and Don Rasmussen sued each other over the paltry financial gains from the ESPN deal and later one claimed to be “Founder of ESPN”, while the other took "ESPN Founder".[11]

According to the New York Times, by 1980, after Bill and Don Rasmussen’s departure and then the selling off of their final stock by 1984, ESPN had not yet turned a profit and had experienced $100m in losses.[19]

ESPN Contacts[edit]

Due to the dubious business dealings of Rasmussen and the need for ESPN Executive to force out Rasmussen for the company to survive, ESPN had no relationship or contact with Rasmussen until 1999.[6][8]

George Bodenheimer the former President of ESPN, started in the mailroom of ESPN at the very beginning. Bodenheimer eventually rose to President of ESPN and became its longest running President (13 years, 1998-Dec. 31, 2011). It was Bodenheimer who reintroduced Rasmussen to ESPN and its employees in October 2005, and dedicated a plaque and flag pole in Rasmussen’s honor.[8]

ESPN forcing out[edit]

The Business Insider reported that, "Father-son team Bill and Scott Rasmussen came up with the idea for ESPN and managed to get Getty Oil to fund it. But the professionals who were brought in eventually forced the Rasmussens out. Don't feel too bad for them, though — they managed to net $3,414,866 off a $39,000 investment."[20] Connected to Rasmussens Fraud and Racketeering charges,[21][22] in Collier, Country Florida, ESPN distanced themselves further from Rasmussen as reported in October 2000, "As for Rasmussen's connection to ESPN, a spokesman for that network, Dan Quinn, told the Naples Daily News, "He's a distant part of our history."[11][22]

Criminal Investigation[edit]

As reported by the Naples Daily News, the criminal investigation and subsequent charges against Rasmussen were dubbed "Stadium Naples was biggest public corruption scandal in local history"[23] and "The scandal resulted in multiple arrests, convictions and overhaul of state and local ethics laws."[21][22][23][24][25]

The numerous news reports went on to state "ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen unveiled plans for a first-of-its-kind golf stadium in 1996, an ambitious, $100 million project to be located northeast of the city of Naples. Plans fell apart under controversy and public outrage when a Naples Daily News investigation revealed in 1997 that an elected official, then Collier County Commissioner John Norris, had negotiated for a stake in Stadium Naples estimated at $7.5 million before casting votes to benefit his developer partners and the stadium." "The controversy would only grow from there. Following the urging of residents and the local Republican Party, then Gov. Jeb Bush ordered a detailed investigation into the matter, as well as the assignment of a special prosecutor. What resulted was the largest corruption case in Collier's history, netting charges against 10 people: four public officials, five business leaders and an attorney."[21][23][26][27]


February 22, 2002, under investigation for bilking[21][26][28][29][30] and accused of corruption as it relates to three different investors, newspapers reported that "Rasmussen faces more than 30 years in prison if convicted of the new charges" has. "Rasmussen returned to Naples from his home in Beaufort County, S.C., and turned himself in Friday. He pleaded innocent to one count of organized fraud and three counts of communications fraud. He was later released from the Collier County Jail after paying a $10,000 bail."[21][26][28][29][30]

Florida Supreme Court[edit]

In 2009 the Naples Daily News reported with the following headline: Governor's call to investigate public corruption.[31] The report goes on to cite, "The government corruption probe Gov. Charlie Crist asked the Florida Supreme Court for this week could pry into courthouses in Lee County and Collier counties."[31] "Stadium Naples was the largest public corruption case in Collier history. It was rooted in ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen's plans for a $100 million golf stadium in North Naples, a scheme that involved three county commissioners, a former county manager, three developers, a convicted hedge fund manager and a real estate attorney."[22][31]

On October 22, 2001, Sports Illustrated reported "In the Rough: A course project gone awry led to a criminal charge against ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen".[22] When he conceived the idea of a course called Stadium Naples in 1996, ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen envisioned a 12,000-seat grandstand wrapped around the 18th green of a tournament track built to host the IntelliNet Challenge, the senior tour event he controlled. However, Stadium Naples and its companion residential and commercial developments were never constructed. Last Thursday, Rasmussen had to settle for an 80-seat courtroom in Collier County, Fla., where he pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, a felony carrying a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.[22][23][25][26][32][33][34][35][36]

Rasmussen, 69, was one of 10 Collier County officials, real estate developers and a lawyer charged in state circuit court after a four-year investigation by Florida prosecutors. The alleged offences make up a litany of white-collar crimes.[22][23][24][25][30][32][33][34][36][37]

As reported by the St. Petersburg Times,[33] the business and stadium was "The brainchild of ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen[38] - who now faces a racketeering conspiracy charge -- Stadium Naples was supposed to turn a tomato field north of one of Paul Hardy's developments into a condominium project like no other".[25][34][38] The article went on to cite Rasmussen’s actions and partners as, "a con man who stole $124-million from his clients", "company specialized in pumping up rigged stocks and then dumping them so insiders could make millions at the expense of regular investors, and; "current investigation, which may yield further charges against Rasmussen."[27][30][33][34][38][38][39]

Libel charges[edit]

As the result of the local and national news media reporting on the Racketeering and Fraud, and Rasmussen’s subsequent Guilty Plea entered,[40][41] Rasmussen filed a libel lawsuit against the Collier County Publishing Company, Naples Daily News and writers such as Gina Edwards, Denise Zoldan and Jeffery Lytle.[41][42][43] At issue was Rasmussen’s claim that 26 articles published between July 2002 and January 2004 were the basis of his defamation and libel lawsuit.[35][44] The crimes committed were so numerous and verifiable the Naples Daily News reported on the 10th anniversary of the criminal investigation that, "The Daily News collected thousands upon thousands of documents, conducted hours and hours of interviews and published hundreds of articles in what turned out to be a highly complex news story. A five-foot high stack of document boxes stands in the corner of our newsroom, a testament to the time reporters and editors devoted to the story."[30][35][36][39][41][44]

In the final court assessment of Rasmussen’s charges, the following was decided in favor of the Publisher and against Rasmussen. “The trial court thoroughly addressed each article and editorial that Mr. Rasmussen challenged as libelous. Our de novo review leads us to the same conclusion that the trial court reached: no genuine issue of material fact remained for trial and the Daily News was entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law."[41][43][44]

Prison Sentence Avoided[edit]

As part of a plea arrangement with prosecutors in what has come to be identified at the single largest public corruption case in Florida history,[36][39][40] Rasmussen in exchange for not facing 30 years in prison, agreed to the following plea bargain as reported by the Naples Daily News with the following details: "In late August 2002, Mr. Rasmussen reached a plea agreement with the State. In exchange for his truthful testimony in the "public corruption" case, the State would dismiss the charges against him in that case. In the "stock fraud" case, Mr. Rasmussen would plead guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges on two counts; the State would dismiss the other counts. The State could void the plea agreement and reinstate charges against Mr. Rasmussen in the public corruption case if he lied. Under the agreement, Mr. Rasmussen could not revoke his plea in the stock fraud case. The trial court accepted the plea agreement and, on January 9, 2004, sentenced Mr. Rasmussen to probation."[23][30][36][45][46]

In June, 2003 the Herald Tribune reported “ESPN founder William Rasmussen pleaded guilty in August to fraud and was sentenced to two years’ probation for his role in the corruption case. Prosecutors say that Rasmussen gave false promotional material to stockbrokers, knowing they would use the material to sell stock in a Stadium Naples partner company.[39][45]

Charity Cheque incident[edit]

During the Naples Stadium fiasco Sports Illustrated reported, "Rasmussen ended up in several tournament-related financial disputes. He admits that he never gave local Rotarians $40,000 he owed them for parking cars for six days at the '98 tournament to raise money for charity. At the end of that event, won by Gil Morgan, Rasmussen went out on the 18th green and presented a large nonnegotiable cardboard check for $770,550 to the chairperson of Quest for Kids, a nonprofit agency that provides educational help to disadvantaged students. However, the charity actually received only a small fraction of that amount."[22]

Various Financial reportings[edit]

Websites such as Celebrity Net Worth[47] and Richest Celebrities .org report Bill Rasmussen’s worth to be an estimated $600 million. These figures are based on a simple mathematical algorithm based on this former stock position in ESPN. However, by the early 80’s Rasmussen had sold all his ESPN stock and records show he net worth at the time to be 1/600th of what is widely reported. Rasmussen’s ESPN Stock was bought for $6,000,000[5] and as reported by co-ESPN Founder Don Rasmussen, when reporting on the stock value of the entire Rasmussen family from the sale of ESPN said. "Our family's 15 percent was divided by a lot of people, so it was getting pretty watered down. None of us were getting rich."[11][16]

Business Insider verified the Rasmussen’s only realized a net $3,414,866 off a $39,000 investment.[48]

Enterprise Radio Network[edit]

The all sports radio network Enterprise Radio Network was founded in January 1981 by Scott Rasmussen, the son of Bill Rasmussen, and was shuttered by September 1981. The network broadcast sports reports twice an hour and did live phone in sports talk from 6 pm to 8 am Eastern Time seven days a week.[26] The State of Connecticut, in conjunction with the US Department of Labor, issued arrest warrants for the Rasmussens for failure to back wages and employment taxes.[26]

Dropped Rasmussen Association[edit]

October 2000 Although estranged from ESPN since 1980, ESPN further commented on their connection to Rasmussen in a statement in the Naples Daily News and their investigation connected to Rasmussens Fraud and Racketeering charges,[21][22] in Collier, Country Florida, “As for Rasmussen's connection to ESPN, a spokesman for that network, Dan Quinn, told the Naples Daily News, "He's a distant part of our history."[11][22]

As reported by Sports Illustrated,[22] due to Rasmussen being charged with Fraud and Racketeering; “In January 2000, Rasmussen lent his name to Sports At Home, a now moribund dotcom that had planned to stage $1 million online sports competitions. As a result of the charges filed against him, Rasmussen resigned on Monday as the firm's nominal chairman at the request of Sports At Home CEO Wes Monty.[22]

October 2016 Tech Start-Up FEVR Tech, LLC distanced themselves from Rasmussen as well.[49][50] Quoted in the press release, former partner of Bill Rasmussen says, "Mr. Rasmussen was one of the first sports thought leader to look at our FEVR technology and application and to recognize its tremendous market potential; however, as of today, Bill Rasmussen will no longer serve as an ambassador, spokesperson or public figure for FEVR, company or technologies,"[50] and FEVR Tech,[49] COO is quoted as saying, "With any new technology, especially as it is being fully developed, certain things occur within start-up companies as they progress, which create profound differences in the company’s execution of its plans and vision. At times these material differences, whether they be strategy or specifically business and personal ethics, require the core group who are innovating, developing and patenting the technology to say goodbye to individuals along the way and to begin to restructure the overall organization"[50][51]

Post ESPN[edit]

Professional Speaking Engagements[edit]

Rasmussen speaks to corporations and universities around the world about innovation, entrepreneurship and business development.[citation needed]

Book Author[edit]

He is a frequent guest on business and sports radio talk shows. Rasmussen is also the author of the book, "Sports Junkies Rejoice! The Birth of ESPN."[52]

New Ventures[edit]

September 20, 2016 – "ESPN Founder Joins Disruptive Broadcasting Startup StriveCast"[53]

Honors and Awards[edit]

  • A United States Air Force veteran, Rasmussen received his bachelor's degree in Economics from DePauw University (Greencastle, Indiana) and his MBA from Rutgers University.
  • CynopsisMedia – Sports Hall Of Fame[54]


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