Originally nicknamed "the deuce," ESPN2 was initially branded as a network for a younger generation of sports fans featuring edgier graphics as well as extreme sports like motocross, snowboarding, and BMX racing. This mandate was phased out by the late 1990s, as the channel increasingly served as a second outlet for ESPN's mainstream sports coverage. ESPN2 is carried in 89 million homes in the United States, eleven million fewer than ESPN.
"The Deuce" launched on October 1, 1993 at 7:30 p.m. ET with the first edition of its sports news program SportsNight, originally hosted by Keith Olbermann and Suzy Kolber, where Olbermann opened the show by jokingly quipping, "Welcome to the end of my career." Launching with an estimated carriage of about 10 million homes, ESPN2 aimed to be a more informal and youth-oriented channel than ESPN, with a heavier emphasis on programming that would appeal to this demographic. Its initial lineup featured studio programs such as SportsNight (which host Keith Olbermann characterized as a "lighter" parallel to ESPN's SportsCenter that would still be "comprehensive, thorough and extremely skeptical."), Talk2 (a nightly talk show hosted by radio personality Jim Rome, which was billed as being the Larry King Live for sports), Max Out (an extreme sports anthology carried over from ESPN), and SportsSmash, a 5-minute rundown of sports news and scores which aired every half hour. Event coverage would focus on coverage of conventional sports popular within the demographic (such as auto racing, college basketball, and NHL hockey), while also covering atypical sports such as BMX and other extreme sports.
ESPN2 would also be used for experimental broadcasts and technology. On September 18, 1994, ESPN2 aired a simulcast of ESPN's coverage of CART's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix, using only onboard camera feeds.In 1995, ESPN2 introduced the "BottomLine", a persistent news ticker which displayed sports news and scores.
ESPN2 also featured several half-hour news programs focused on specific sports, such as NFL 2Night (football), NHL 2Night (hockey), and RPM 2Night (auto racing).
In the late 1990s, ESPN2 would phase out its youth-oriented format and begin to serve as a secondary outlet for ESPN's mainstream programming. The "graffiti 2" logo was dropped in 2001 and replaced with a variant of ESPN's normal logo, and telecasts began to use a more traditional style. However, on-screen graphics (such as the BottomLine) would use a blue color scheme instead of red to differentiate it from ESPN. On February 12, 2007, the use of ESPN2 branding would also be dramatically reduced while the ESPN2 name would be retained for branding and identification purposes, in-game graphics and other elements began to simply use the normal ESPN logo.
Sports events presented on ESPN2 originally tended to be alternative sports such as poker, billiards, lumberjacking, extreme sports and, more recently, drum and bugle corps. However, in recent years ESPN2 has broadcast increasingly more mainstream sporting events, including Major League Baseball games, the East-West Shrine Game, much of the 2006 World Baseball Classic, many Major League Soccer and NCAA basketball games, the WNBA, the Arena Football League, and some NASCAR Nationwide Series races on Saturday afternoons. In 2011, ESPN2 also picked up delayed broadcast rights for some American Le Mans Series events, with ABC broadcasting the major events.
The channel has also become ESPN's home for tennis coverage. The showpieces are all four of the "Grand Slam" tournaments – the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. Also featured on ESPN2 are the ATP World Tour Finals and US-based tournaments, including the ATP Masters 1000 events at Indian Wells and Miami, as well as the US Open Series.
Most of ESPN's soccer output is broadcast on ESPN2. This includes Major League Soccer, all Premier League matches on Saturday mornings and Monday afternoons, two dozen La Liga matches, and the United States' 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. ESPN2 formerly broadcast matches of the UEFA Champions League, until rights for that tournament moved to Fox Soccer Channel and its sister stations.
ESPN2's former flagship show, the morning sports/entertainment program Cold Pizza, achieved minimal success and saw several format and host changes. In January 2006, it was supplanted by the TV simulcast of ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning (which moved from ESPNews) and moved to a later time slot (10 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST). In May 2007, Cold Pizza moved from New York City to the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, and was renamed ESPN First Take. After ESPN became part of a new broadcast contract with the association, ESPN2 also premiered the new daily show NASCAR Now (similar to the previous RPM 2Night, except only focusing on NASCAR) in February 2007.
In 2003, ESPN2 began broadcasting Major League Lacrosse games. In March 2007, both agreed on a contract that will run until the 2016 season.
Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith, a program that featured interviews with popular sports figures, had averaged extremely low ratings, and had also faced several time slot changes, until it was finally canceled in January 2007.
A 720p high definition simulcast of ESPN2 launched in January 2005. Originally branded as ESPN2HD, the channel airs at least 8.5 hours per day of high definition programming (not including live event coverage). As with ESPNHD, ESPN2HD uses stylized pillarboxes during programming not produced in widescreen.
In January 2011, the separate ESPN2HD branding began to be phased out, as in May 2011, the channel would shift to using the widescreen format on both its high definition and standard definition feeds (through letterboxing).
ESPN2 has also simulcast many games with ESPN, usually as a part of an ESPN Full Circle special, which covers a single telecast across several ESPN networks, with each network providing a different form of coverage (such as different camera angles).
ESPN2 also simulcasts some ESPNews programming, often during local blackouts, and for a while provided a Sunday simulcast of ESPN Deportes' SportsCenter. In return, ESPN2 is often seen on ESPN during local blackouts.
ESPN2 also often carries SportsCenter on days where the regular ESPN broadcast is overrun by a longer than expected sporting event. ESPN and ESPN2 also jointly aired 2 episodes of a documentary special called This is SportsCenter, where ESPN showed a documentary showing the production of a SportsCenter episode, while the finished product aired on ESPN2. The documentary would usually air for two hours where hour one would cover the preliminary production of the night's show on ESPN while ESPN2 aired ESPN's normal programming. The second hour usually spent time at production control while covering reaction to the night's developments.
Both ESPN and ESPN2 carried ABC News coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
ESPN2 also aired the men's basketball SEC Championship Game in 2008 to most of the nation, since a storm damaged the initial site of the tournament, causing the schedule to be rearranged in conflict with CBS's coverage of the Big Ten Championship Game. The game was produced by CBS. In SEC territory, the Big Ten game appeared on ESPN2.
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