ESPN plan means new jobs

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy speaks with ESPN Executive Vice President of Administration Ed Durso after a groundbreaking Tuesday for a new building on the campus of ESPN in Bristol. ESPN will get a $17.5 million state loan to build its new Digital Center, plus up to $1.2 million for a job-training grant program.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy speaks with ESPN Executive Vice President of Administration Ed Durso after a groundbreaking Tuesday for a new building on the campus of ESPN in Bristol. ESPN will get a $17.5 million state loan to build its new Digital Center, plus up to $1.2 million for a job-training grant program. Jessica Hill/AP photo

Bristol - ESPN is already the biggest player in sports broadcasting.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday that he is deploying up to $25 million of state development incentives to grow the company's Bristol headquarters even bigger.

"We have a desire to make ESPN as large as we can possibly make it in Connecticut," the governor said at a news conference on its campus. "The more that's here, quite frankly, the more that's likely to stay here."

ESPN will be the third beneficiary of Malloy's new First Five program for encouraging jobs growth. The company has pledged to add at least 200 new, full-time jobs over the next five years. In return, ESPN will receive a $17.5 million loan from the Department of Economic and Community Development for the construction of a new 193,000-square-foot production facility.

Digital Center 2 represents a $100 million investment and would be the largest of 19 buildings on the campus when completed in 2014, according to ESPN. The building would also be the new home of SportsCenter.

Ronald Angelo Jr., deputy commissioner of the development department, called the broadcaster's investment a "game changer" for the state.

"When a company of any sort is investing $100 million or more in an entity, it is a game changer," Angelo said.

In addition to the loan, ESPN will receive up to $1.2 million in job-training grants through the state and $6 million of sales use tax exemptions on capital equipment and construction materials. State officials said the interest rate of the loan is still being negotiated.

ESPN has committed to creating 200 jobs within five years. However, the development package has incentives for the company to add up to 600 more jobs over 10 years.

"We got the 200 job commitment, we hope that it goes up to 800 jobs," Angelo said.

The jobs announced Tuesday are in addition to 270 jobs promised by ESPN in March for the Bristol campus. That announcement included jobs with ESPN The Magazine that have since moved to Connecticut from New York City.

Ed Durso, the company's executive vice president of administration, wouldn't say whether ESPN would still have built the new digital center in Bristol without the governor's First Five offer. But he said the deal sweeteners likely helped to make Connecticut a more attractive location for the broadcaster's corporate parent.

ESPN is 80 percent owned by ABC Inc., an indirect subsidiary of The Walt Disney Co.

"I think it's significant," Durso said of the incentives package. "These kinds of projects, you look at every nickel. We have to justify to our corporate company what we're spending and why."

Malloy's First Five program offers a variety of tax credits and loans for the first five businesses in state or out-of-state each year that promise to create at least 200 new jobs in Connecticut within two years, or invest at least $25 million and create 200 jobs within five years.

The program's inaugural beneficiary, health insurer Cigna, promised last month to add 200 jobs for more than $50 million in incentives and relocate its headquarters to Bloomfield from Philadelphia.

The second participant, TicketNetwork, an online exchange for reselling sports and events tickets, is receiving nearly $8 million to create 200 jobs in South Windsor. State officials say they are in discussions with some out-of-state companies that are considering moving to Connecticut, including manufactures.

ESPN officials say there are currently about 3,800 full-time jobs on their Bristol campus. The average annual salary is about $75,000, not including benefits.

Malloy grabbed a shovel and hard hat to help toss dirt for the new building's groundbreaking Tuesday afternoon. He said ESPN is a worthwhile recipient of First Five incentives.

"They [ESPN] have built facilities in LA, they built facilities in Austin - they have the ability to build facilities wherever they want," the governor said. "If I lost this, and if they had decided to add 200 jobs in Austin, or 200 jobs elsewhere after having considered us, you could rightfully criticize me."

j.reindl@theday.com

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