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ESPN2 launched on October 1, 1993 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Its inaugural program was the premiere of SportsNight, a sports news program originally hosted by Keith Olbermann and Suzy Kolber – where Olbermann opened the show by jokingly welcoming viewers to “the end of our careers.” Launching with an estimated carriage of about 10 million homes, and nicknamed “The Deuce”,ESPN2 aimed to be a more informal and youth-oriented channel than parent network ESPN, featuring a heavier emphasis on programming that would appeal to the demographic. The youthful image was also reflected in its overall presentation, which featured a graffiti-themed logo and on-air graphics.

Its initial lineup featured studio programs such as SportsNight—which host Keith Olbermann characterized as a “lighter” parallel to ESPN’s SportsCenter that would still be “comprehensive, thorough and extremely skeptical”, Talk2—a Jim Rome-hosted nightly talk show billed as an equivalent to CNN’s Larry King LiveMax Out—an extreme sports anthology series carried over from ESPN, and SportsSmash, a five-minute rundown of sports news and scores which aired every half-hour. ESPN2 also featured several half-hour news programs focused on specific sports, such as NFL 2Night (football), NHL 2Night (hockey) and RPM 2Night (auto racing). Event coverage would focus on coverage of mainstream sports popular within the 18–34 age demographic, such as auto racing, college basketball and NHL hockey (which was branded as NHL Fire on Ice), while also covering atypical sports such as BMX and other extreme sports.

ESPN2 would also be used to showcase new technology and experimental means of broadcasting events: on September 18, 1994, ESPN2 simulcast CART’s Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix using only onboard camera feeds. In 1995, ESPN2 introduced the “BottomLine”, a persistent news ticker which displayed sports news and scores. The BottomLine would later be adopted by ESPN itself and all of its future properties.

In the late 1990s, ESPN2 began to phase out its youth-oriented format, and transitioned to becoming a secondary outlet for ESPN’s mainstream sports programming; telecasts began to adopt a more conventional style, and the “graffiti 2” logo was dropped in 2001 in favor of a variation of the standard ESPN logo. On-screen graphics (such as the BottomLine) used a blue color scheme instead of red to differentiate it from ESPN. On February 12, 2007, the ESPN2 branding was stripped from most on-air presentation and replaced with ESPN: the ESPN2 brand is now solely used for station identification.