|Born||Chester Robert Simmons
July 11, 1928
New York City, New York, United States
|Died||March 25, 2010
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
United States Football League
Chester Robert "Chet" Simmons (July 11, 1928 – March 25, 2010) was an American sports executive, working at three different television networks sports divisions (first ABC, later becoming President of NBC Sports, and then in 1979 becoming President of ESPN) before becoming the first Commissioner of the United States Football League in 1982.
Born in New York City on July 11, 1928, Simmons was raised in Ossining, New York and Pawtucket, Rhode Island. His love for sports began when he was a child listening to Brooklyn Dodgers games on the family car's radio. He graduated first with a bachelor's degree in broadcasting from the University of Alabama in 1950, then a Master of Science in television from Boston University. While in college, Simmons became a brother of Alpha Epsilon Pi. He served in the United States Coast Guard after completing his graduate studies. His first employment following his military stint was at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample.
Simmons' television broadcasting management career began in 1957 when he accepted an invitation from Edgar Scherick to join Sports Programs Inc., which would evolve into ABC Sports four years later. Called by colleague Roone Arledge "the sanest of my office mates," Simmons played a major role in laying the groundwork for establishing ABC as American television's leading network for sports.
Simmons also worked for NBC Sports of which he was also the president at one time.
Slightly more than five weeks prior to ESPN's official launch on September 7, 1979, Simmons became president and chief operating officer on July 31. He left ESPN in 1982 over differences with executives from Getty Oil, at the time the network's parent company which was losing millions of dollars a year on the venture.
United States Football League (USFL)
Simmons was appointed the first commissioner of the United States Football League a month after its formation in 1982. Due to his background in the medium, a drawback of the hiring was that it further fueled the perception that the new circuit was a "made for television" entity. One of the USFL's first accomplishments under his watch was the signing of a two-year contract with ESPN. It was the cable network's first-ever agreement with a sports league to televise select regular-season games. The USFL also had a two-year deal with ABC, but it was consummated before Simmons' hiring.
The league incurred heavy financial losses. Even though he worked closely to help promote each of the franchises, Simmons increasingly came under fire from some club owners for failing to negotiate a more lucrative network television deal. Eventually, the league organized an Executive Committee and charged it with the responsibility of negotiating a television rights deal, removing Simmons from the process entirely. Three months later, on January 14, 1985, the owners asked for and received Simmons' resignation as Commissioner, replacing him with Harry Usher, an attorney who had served as the executive vice president and general manager of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee.
- "Chet Simmons, long-time president of NBC Sports had become ESPN's president." ESPNFounder.com
- Sandomir, Richard. "Chet Simmons, a Founding Force of ESPN, Dies at 81," The New York Times, Saturday, March 27, 2010.
- Sarkissian II, Arek. "Broadcast pioneer Simmons dies at 81," Savannah Morning News, Friday, March 26, 2010.
- "Two Prominent Media Leaders to be Inducted into C&IS Hall of Fame at UA," The University of Alabama, Thursday, September 28, 2006.
- Dashefsky, Arnold (2012). American Jewish Year Book 2012. Springer. p. 409.
- "Former ESPN president dies at 81," ESPN.com, Friday, March 26, 2010.
- "Sports Broadcasting Pioneer Simmons Dies At 81," The Associated Press, Thursday, March 25, 2010.
- "LAOOC's Usher Replaces Simmons as the Commissioner of the USFL," The Associated Press, Wednesday, January 16, 1985.
- "In the Beginning..." – USFL.info.
- Fang's Bites: Chet Simmons, The First President of ESPN, 1928-2010
- Fang's Bites: Videos of the Week – Chet Simmons’ Influence on Sports
- Chet Simmons interview video at the Archive of American Television