With an eye toward increased programming for the endless channel capacity of the future, ESPN has created the American Sports Awards, to be telecast on March 4.

The awards, which ESPN hopes will become an annual affair, will be called ESPYs–for Excellence in Sports Performance–and a portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.

“We believe it will be the definitive sports award show,” said Steve Bornstein, president and CEO of ESPN, at a press conference announcing the event at the ’21’ Club. An awards show had been contemplated since ESPN’s beginnings, Bornstein said, along with other entertainment-oriented ideas like sports gameshows and sports soap operas.

While other entertainment product is still “in the conceptual stage,” Bornstein said it is something ESPN is working on either for a second ESPN channel or “other distribution outlets.”

Reebok, GM signed

ESPN has already signed up Reebok and General Motors as the primary sponsors for the ESPYs, which will be televised “live-on-tape” from 9-11:30 p.m. from the Paramount Theater in Madison Square Garden on March 4. Kaleidoscope Entertainment will produce the show.

The show will feature 32 categories. A committee of 20 people ranging from Bob Costas to Mary Lou Retton to Pete Rozelle will select the finalists in 22 categories–the winners of the 15 performer of the year awards in each sport will then be picked by their peers, while the seven “Cross-cutter” winners (best in any sport) will be selected by the 20-member committee and 50 print journalists.

Viewers will vote on 10 video-related awards by calling a 900 number during January and February. The proceeds will go to the Arthur Ashe Foundation to defeat AIDS. Additionally, according to ESPN executive editor John A. Walsh, a phone number will be broadcast during the telecast, and ESPN has pledged a minimum contribution of $ 50,000. Ashe also will be the honorary chairperson for the Awards.

The show will be hosted by Dennis Miller, who said, “It’s nice to be here on the ESPYs because my career is in the deepest (pit) it’s ever been in.”

It will feature celebrity presenters like Bill Murray, who also attended the press conference and said it was about time that the network lived up to the E in its original ESPN name (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network): “There hasn’t been entertainment on this network ever.”

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