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Those Guys Have All the Fun

It's big and it's bloated but – like the sports empire that it covers – this is a book that you don't want to miss.

By Erik Spanberg / June 21, 2011

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN By James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, Published by Little, Brown and Company 784 pp.

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At the ripe old age of 32, ESPN is in its prime.

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The self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports has become just that, airing in 200 countries and raking in billions of dollars while carrying games featuring all of the major American sports leagues. Between its six US cable networks, thriving website, bi-weekly magazine and sprawling radio network, ESPN employs 6,500 people, including 3,800 at its 116-acre Connecticut campus.

In Those Guys Have All the Fun, co-authors James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales track the network’s meteoric rise. Though ESPN’s success now seems like a foregone conclusion, no one in TV thought so in 1979. Founders Bill and Scott Rasmussen first planned to launch a channel devoted to Connecticut sports, but the happenstance good fortune of landing cheap satellite time convinced them instead to make it a national network. All of four reporters attended the press conference announcing ESPN’s arrival.

Today, however, what once was a hapless $9,000 start-up in a dead-end town (Bristol, Conn.) has morphed into a Disney-owned media property worth more than the major leagues of baseball, hockey, and basketball combined.

“Those Guys Have All the Fun” is built on hundreds of interviews with executives, staffers and other insiders in an oral history format linked by intermittent narrative threads from Miller and Shales. At 763 pages, this book is, like its subject, bloated but bound to succeed.

The alternating voices can be a boon, as when several people contradict and deflate former Disney executive Michael Eisner for his hindsight-is-20/20 pronouncements. At other times, the authors force the reader to slog through several people all saying the same thing with minimal additional insight. No doubt the authors felt indebted to try to use as much of the material they gathered as possible, but it slows the story.

And yet “Those Guys Have All the Fun” must be reckoned with. Despite numerous frustrations with some of the interviews (Venus Williams, Peyton Manning, and Danica Patrick are among the athletes quoted who have absolutely nothing of interest to say) and some of the section topics, this reader tackled it handily, driven by a combination of nostalgia and curiosity. Plenty of sports fans, I suspect, will share the sentiment, eager to pull back the curtain on an entity that has eaten up so much of their leisure time dissecting inevitably meaningless news (the fate of a 9th round draft pick who will never see an NFL field) and other insignificant affairs (any NBA game involving the Los Angeles Clippers, to cite but one example).

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