HARTFORD, Conn. — ESPN began work last week on a new parking lot on the southern side of its 120-acre campus in Bristol.
The sports media giant has promised more than 200 new jobs over the next five years as part of a major expansion, and, spokesman Mike Soltys said, it needs somewhere for all its new employees to put their cars.
About 70 miles away in Stamford, work has begun to convert the site of a former Clairol factory into the new headquarters for NBC Sports, which is moving 450 jobs to Connecticut from New York.
And in Hartford, a new golf cable outlet, Back9Network Inc., is making plans for its new downtown studio and headquarters – bringing an estimated 50 jobs to the state by the first quarter of 2013.
Sports and satellite dishes may be doing for Connecticut what the computer chip did for Silicon Valley.
The home of ESPN since its inception in 1979, Connecticut is using large tax breaks, low interest loans and other financial incentives to attract similar companies to what is fast becoming an industry cluster.
“The sports television sector at this point is kind of reaching a critical mass in Connecticut,” said George Norfleet, the director of the state’s office of film, television and digital media. “It’s attracting attention. It’s expanding and it’s creating jobs.”
Back9Network this summer became the latest such company to announce a decision to locate in the state, joining the bigger players - ESPN, NBC Sports, WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.) - and smaller entities such as the regional YES (Yankees Entertainment and Sports) Network.
James Bosworth, the founder of Back9Network said he was drawn to Connecticut by the financial incentives, its proximity to New York, and because those other companies already were here.
“All those places have people who have been exposed to the best of the best,” he said. “It just makes sense as you build an organization that you want to recruit the right brain trust and people. If all those people happen to be in the same geographical location, it makes it a lot easier for you.”
The state also has a real estate advantage over other potential locations, he said. It is close enough to take advantage of the media center of Manhattan, but with space that is much more affordable.
Yes Network decided to build its production center in Stamford rather than New York over a decade ago, and the location has allowed it to grow, said spokesman Eric Handler.
“We established this as a beachhead, and it’s everything we need,” he said.
Soltys said being located in Connecticut also has helped ESPN attract talent. It allows employees to choose to live in a rural, suburban or urban setting and have major cities, beaches and mountains nearby, he said.
The company also has been able expand without moving and uprooting its workforce and has found the state government easy to work with, he said.
“Years ago, back when we were considering where to expand, the state created tax legislation that was supportive of our growth here,” he said. “And they’ve now fine-tuned it for the industry, where they’ve made an effort to do that for all companies that are committed to bringing permanent jobs.”
Back9Network received an aid package that includes a 10-year, $750,000 loan at 1 percent interest, a five-year, $250,000 job-creation loan at 2 percent interest, and a $100,000 matching grant.
It also can take advantage of state laws set up to help bring media and film companies here that include a 30 percent tax credit for expenditures made in Connecticut.
ESPN and NBC Sports last year were given deals as part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “First Five” program, set up for the first businesses to agree to create 200 jobs over two years or invest $25 million in Connecticut and create 200 jobs over five years.
ESPN, which last year announced plans to build a second digital center in Bristol, received a 10-year, $17.5 million loan, up to $1.2 million in job-training grants, and up to $6 million in tax exemptions on capital equipment and construction materials for that expansion.
NBC Sports’ package includes similar tax incentives and a $20 million low-interest loan.
“This new campus is about bringing people together to maximize production, creativity and efficient teamwork,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, said in a news release. “We are creating one 32-acre unique location that allows us to build numerous state-of-the-art studios, house more than 450 employees, and prepare for anticipated future growth.”
Norfleet said he expects the industry will continue to grow in Connecticut, and said the state is in talks with other sports media companies, but declined to identify them.
‘’We recognize the importance of television, and we’re working hard to provide whatever services such as locations, direct financial assistance, anything that might help a company come to Connecticut,” Norfleet said.