As I was finishing watching the Monday Night Football game and talking to a friend about some of the personalities who cover the games for ESPN, I noticed something alarming. Most of the personalities who we see so often thrust on us by ESPN are particularly entertaining or engaging. This is not a good look for the "Worldwide Leader in Sports". They have become too much about entertainment and not enough about far reaching and comprehensive sports coverage/analysis.
Now I'm not wholeheartedly against ESPN, I love the recent and still ongoing ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series. Which surely would not have been possible without ESPN transitioning to a more entertainment based network.
However a number of alarming things have also occurred, one look at the shows that get the most emphasis on ESPN, shows the network values controversy/personality over insight/analysis.
Mike and Mike, Around the Horn, and at times even First and Ten all represent the current issues in media and sports media today; that often we are presented with redundant and uninteresting shouting heads, i.e. Jay Mariotti, over intelligent, knowledgeable sports writers.
Now I understand ESPN needs to sell ad space and attract viewers, and that not everything someone like Jay Mariotti says is not completely devoid of solid analysis. But a huge part of watching sports as a fan is learning about the game you love and ultimately becoming a smarter, more passionate fan of whatever sport you love.
However, ESPN seems to have ignored this notion in most of their sports coverage based shows. Yeah sure it's pretty much guaranteed they will never topple the juggernaut that is TNT. Atleast as long as Ernie Johnson, Chuck Barkley and Kenny "the jet" Smith are around. But what about the other major sports?
Thus far the only sport they seem to be on top of as far as smart analysis and coverage goes is baseball, where they have brilliant and smart analysts and writers such as Howard Bryant, Buster Olney, Peter Gammons and Bobby Valentine.
Baseball tonight seems to be the perfect model of sports coverage, entertaining personalities/segments combined with insight and knowledge the average fan just doesn't possess.
I often wonder why ESPN hasn't emulated this process with their other shows. To a certain degree in football they don't have to as their competitors have much more issues than they do. However it seems a company who has branded itself "The Worldwide Leader in Sports" would need no further motivation than to live up to their own standards.
Of course this is true of any business/industry especially one with such monopolized power as ESPN. But complacency sucks, it hurts the overall product and perception of quality companies; while frustrating fans because they have no other alternatives.
One look at the reception to the Madden series since they became the only NFL based video game series, shows how much people hate a monopoly. However I will acknowledge the fact that they are the main act in the circus that is the sports media, does make ESPN an easy target.
That being said ESPN would do well to listen to the voice of the fan, something they seem to be working more toward with their recent Ombudsman column which can be found here: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=ohlmeyer_don&id=4582425
But as always actions speak louder than words. For now us fans will settle but with economic times becoming harder and online telecasts becoming more and more visible. A regime change may be coming, much like it did in the newspaper and magazine industry. Lets hope the corporate sports media learns from their partners mistakes.
Until then I just gotta say. "ESPN step your game up!"
Philip Powell is an aspiring journalist currently attending Central Michigan University. His interests include sports, comic books/graphic novels, reading, movies and writing. He can be contacted on his page here on by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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