Long before ESPN was nestled against Disney's ample corporate bosom, Getty Oil owned 85 percent of the barely sentient TV network. The other 15 percent was owned by the group of entrepreneurs and speculators who got ESPN off the ground. This certificate for 100 shares belonged to one of them, Don Rasmussen.
Don is a quirky septuagenarian, a retired middle school principal, a memoirist, and the estranged brother of ESPN "founder" Bill Rasmussen. Prior to ESPN's launch in 1979, Don and several other members of the Rasmussen clan ponied up thousands of their own dough so Bill—a fast-talking slick by most accounts—could keep the venture afloat while he sniffed around for advertisers, content suppliers, and investors with deeper pockets. Don, who calls himself the "quiet founder of ESPN," claims his brother tended to view the investments of his fellow Rasmussens as personal gifts. They don't talk much these days, as you might expect of two men who own competing websites about the birth of ESPN. Bill's is called ESPN Founder. Don's, which was recently suspended, is called Founder of ESPN.
These fancy stock certificates transformed into fat stacks of cash in 1984, when Texaco bought Getty Oil and promptly sold ESPN to ABC for $227 million. The investment group's 15 percent stake in ESPN consisted of 750 total shares, which would put Don's 100 at about $4.4 million in 1984 dollars, according to my back-of-the-envelope calculations. That's roughly $10 million in 2014 currency.
Travis Vogan teaches at the University of Iowa. He's currently writing a book that looks at how ESPN works to convince consumers of its "Worldwide Leader" status, which will be published by the University of Illinois Press.