BRISTOL — ESPN executives and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy officially opened the new home of the sports broadcasting giant’s “SportsCenter” program Monday. The company agreed to build the new facility in Connecticut in exchange for state assistance.
In return for locating the “Digital Center 2” building in Bristol and promising to create at least 200 jobs by 2017, ESPN is receiving $10 million in Urban and Industrial Sites Reinvestment Tax Credits.
That’s a different deal than the agreement the Malloy administration and the sports network announced back in 2011 when the company became the third to participate in Malloy’s “First Five” assistance program. The original agreement made ESPN eligible for a $17.5 million loan and up to $1.2 million in job-training grants.
During the opening ceremony, Malloy and ESPN President John Skipper took to the new “SportsCenter” studio, where, with cameras rolling, the governor offered sports commentary on the recent championship victory of University of Connecticut basketball team.
After, he told reporters the deal his administration inked with ESPN was part of an effort to “protect your flank” from competition coming from other states. Although ESPN is headquartered in Connecticut, Malloy said the network has also built studios in Texas and California.
“We certainly didn’t want it to go to Texas, I can assure you Texas was competing with us. We certainly didn’t want it to go to California, I can assure you California was competing with us. We won,” Malloy said.
Skipper told reporters the competition never got too serious. He said that Texas is an aggressive state when it comes to economic development offers, but ESPN did not explore locating the new facility in another state and was committed to remaining in Connecticut once the deal with the state was in place.
“ESPN has made a major investment in our future and we will continue to grow in the state of Connecticut,” Skipper said before the ribbon cutting. “We’re delighted to do that in partnership with the state.”
Malloy touted digital media as an economic “sweet spot” for Connecticut and referred to NBC Sports, another sports broadcaster participating in the “First Five” program. He said he viewed the “First Five” program as a success that has helped draw smaller companies into Connecticut as service providers for larger corporations like NBC.
“It’s allowed us to grow in areas that we weren’t otherwise growing,” he said. “. . . Yeah, you could say you’re paying an amount of money to get a company, the reality is, we run the numbers and the payback on something like NBC, or this studio, is relatively rapid, particularly compared to the potential of having lost those efforts.”
The legislature approved funding for the governor to name 15 “First Five” companies that were expected to create more than 200 jobs in exchange for tax breaks and other state grants.
There were 13 companies at one point in time in line to receive state assistance, but the number has since dropped to 12. TicketNetwork, an early “First Five” announcement fell through after its chief executive officer checked himself into an alcohol rehab facility following his arrest at an Oscar night party back in 2012.
The state is trying salvage a deal with another company, Sustainable Building Systems, which has seen its business partnership between Australia-based Weeks Group and Arizona-based Diverse Services Group fizzle out sometime after the “First Five” announcement, according to this report in the Hartford Courant.
Before he tried his hand at sports broadcasting, Malloy who is up for re-election this year, joked that he was interested in an ESPN gig if things did not work out as he hopes.
“If my contract doesn’t get renewed maybe I can swing a job here,” he said.