Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame: Chuck Pagano, ESPN’s Technology Visionary
Next year, ESPN will open the doors on DC2, a new production home for SportsCenter and other ESPN programs. The facility will take advantage of next-generation technologies that promise to make the plant and ESPN ready for whatever the future may hold. It will also serve, in many ways, as the crowning achievement for the career of ESPN CTO/EVP Chuck Pagano, a man whose time at ESPN extends all the way back to its earliest days. But his influence on ESPN and its technical crew extends well beyond technical infrastructure.
“With Chuck, the first thing that comes to mind is the human touch,” says ESPN Executive Chairman George Bodenheimer. “He built DC1, and it is a technical masterpiece. But he seems to be most proud of the fact that he gave everyone who works in there a voice in its design. A culture carrier personified and, of course, a brilliant technical mind fueled by insatiable curiosity about not only technology but the world around him.”
Pagano earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Hartford and put his knowledge to use at CBS affiliate WSFB Hartford, CT. In 1978, rumors of a developing University of Connecticut alumni TV channel reached him, and his life changed forever.
“Having a good capitalistic instinct and being the owner of a Harley-Davidson that was falling apart daily,” he says, “I elected to work on some of the focus-group productions with this little band of gypsies that was working on the UConn network.”
Over the course of four months, he helped produce a handful of UConn football, basketball, and field-hockey games but had not yet quit his day job.
“When word came around in April 1979 that [ESPN] was going to be launching something, I was still living in my hometown of Waterbury, [CT],” Pagano recalls. “Instead of commuting to Hartford every day, I elected to see if I could commute to the next town over, Bristol. I came over in the summer of 1979 and have basically been here for the entire journey.”
Of all the innovations with which he has been involved, he counts that journey as his proudest.
“From the very first shovel in the ground, ESPN was an innovation,” he says. “No one was doing sports like we’re doing now. There were pundits out there who thought we’d all be out of a job in two years. I was lucky to be part of the original rollout, when there were only 40 of us.”
Today, there are more than 6,000 ESPN staffers spread, literally, across Bristol and around the world. Over the years, Pagano has played a role in providing all of them with a place to do their jobs in new and better ways, whether it was the original Digital Center, the launch of ESPN’s Los Angeles production facility (the first all-1080p plant in the world), or overseeing the network’s move to HD.
“Back in an era when people were looking at us like we were out of our minds,” he recalls, “we took a leap of faith in building out a rather large production facility toward HD.”
One of the most well-rounded executives currently working in sports, Pagano is unique in his influence and staying power at a single organization as well as for his thirst for knowledge on nearly every topic.