As friends gather in Maine today to honor former Capital Cities chair Dan Burke who passed away last week, ESPNFrontRow remembers his important contributions to ESPN and a memorable day in Bristol history.
Capital Cities owned and was very supportive of ESPN through an amazing decade of growth, 1986-96, when we added NFL and Major League Baseball programming and spread our wings with the launch of ESPN2 and ESPN Radio.
And in May of 1990, Cap Cities, known for its austerity, decided to host its annual stockholders meeting in Bristol.
As a manager in the PR department, I was asked by event organizer Rosa Gatti to help convert the ESPN mobile unit garage into a meeting space worthy of a global gathering of media and business officials that included Warren Buffett. But in true Cap Cities spirit, we weren’t to spend much money on it. The garage, which all these years and a few dollars later is enjoying life as our four-fork Café, was scrubbed down and the local rental company provided convention blue curtains, folding chairs and podium risers. That’s it. But big business took place as Burke’s Bristol visit marked a career milestone. The board of directors formally and unanimously elected him to follow his mentor Thomas Murphy as head of Capital Cities/ABC.
Beyond his business acumen, Burke’s sense of humor left an impression. At the meeting he commented on the Cap Cities acquisition of ESPN: “Our timing seemed to be perfect—which is to say that all of the losses had taken place prior to our merger.”
The crowd of 150 was primarily ESPN employees, but included ABC News chief Roone Arledge. Arledge was grilled by a stockholder and media watchdog, who among other things criticized Bristol as “difficult to find.”
In part, thanks to the leadership of Mr. Burke, that is no longer the case.