Growing Together

ESPN marks 25 years on the Ballantyne® campus

By Michelle Boudin | Photos courtesy of ESPN

Shawn Murphy, ESPN’s vice president of remote production, remembers driving through the Ballantyne® development for the first time almost 30 years ago and wondering what the giant stone sculptures were.

“A friend and I were on our way to a race in Darlington in 1996, and it was the first time we had ever seen the pillars. Nothing else was here, and we said, what is this Stonehenge thing? We didn’t know what was coming but knew it was going to be big, and sure enough, it’s just been phenomenal in terms of the growth!”

In many ways, the growth of the Ballantyne development has mirrored the growth of ESPN’s offices here.

When the ESPN Charlotte offices first set up shop at Ballantyne Corporate Park, there wasn’t much to the organization or the new community it was calling home.

SEC Network host Dari Nowkhah and analysts Ron Slay and Pat Bradley during the SEC Halftime Report.

“I think we were the third occupant of the office park,” Murphy recalls. Back then, Murphy and his coworkers worked in what was considered a satellite office of the sports network, which has a campus with thousands of employees in Bristol, Connecticut.

ESPN first came to Charlotte in 1997 after buying Creative Sports, a sports syndication company that was based here. In those early days, the Queen City outpost produced RPM 2Night (a weekly racing show) and later handled syndication for some big collegiate conferences. The original plan was to move the entire operation to Orlando because of Disney, but in the spring of 1998, ESPN put a hold on the move and settled down in Charlotte.

Stephanie Grant is the director of ESPN Events and relocated from Bristol to Ballantyne. She’s about to celebrate 25 years with the company and distinctly remembers how empty the area was when she first arrived. She spoke about the early days of RPM 2Night, which aired on Sundays and featured the driver who’d won that weekend’s race.

Grant says, “There were no other buildings around, and they flew the driver here to be on the show. (An) empty field was used as a helipad, and we would always gather and see who was getting out of the helicopter. I remember when Dale (Earnhardt) Junior came, and we were all trying to get a good look.”