View Full Version : The Future of ESPN

04-11-2005, 12:06 AM
Funny commentary I just had to share. Especially the end part about the ESPN boards.


Saturday, April 9, 2005

The Future of ESPN

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By Greg Wyshynski (gregwyshynski@sports-central.org)

It's been 28 years since an OBGYN had the good sense to slice my mother open and yank me out, nine months after I was conceived and moments before I burst from her torso like a Ridley Scott xenomorph.

Yet it was only yesterday when I began to feel, well, old. Not old in the sense that I can't hang with the kids — I'm down with your 50-Cents and your Fat Joes and what-have-yous, doncha know...

And not old in the sense that my body is starting to dramatically hurdle towards the sunset of my life — my hairline may be creeping away, but it hasn't made a full-on break for the border yet.

But after reading a piece by Darren Rovell on ESPN.com (http://www.sports-central.org/cgi-bin/axs/ax.pl?http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=rovell/050401), I felt like time has suddenly passed me by. I felt like my father, walking into a Nobody Beats the Wiz in Central New Jersey over a decade ago and realizing that, for the first time, there were more CDs than cassette tapes in the store.

It's a feeling that hits us all at a certain point in our lives, when your car stalls at the intersection of Comprehension Avenue and Ingenuity Drive.

It's that moment when you realize that yes, old-timer, technology really does scare the crap out of you.

Rovell's piece — which marked the 10th anniversary of ESPN's equally insipid and inspirational website — dealt with the coming information revolution in sports fan culture:

"In the next decade, fans will still be able to watch 'SportsCenter' and they'll still be able to load up their favorite highlights from their cubicles at work, but they will also be able to do it all on their cell phones. It's clear that the winner who emerges from all the expected advances in technology over the next decade will be the fan. For example, fans at the Kentucky-Michigan State game this past weekend could have called friends watching at home to see if Patrick Sparks' shot at the buzzer was in fact a three-pointer. In the future, fans in the stands might be able to see the replay on their phones before a ruling is made."Call me old-fashioned, but that just blows my mind. That's some serious Jetson's stuff right there. What's next: is Rosy the Robot going to whip me up some chili and cheese fries in the Foodarackacycle during halftime?

Then there's the plan to allow fans to request video on-demand from, like, any game ever played in the history of sports. Including rainouts.

And there's the plan to have ESPN programming beamed directly into cell phones, so you can literally watch yourself at the game holding up a "SportsCenter is Next" sign ... while watching yourself on "SportsCenter."

Part of my astonishment towards this technology is personal bias. My cell phone has a pay-as-you-go "emergency" plan; I couldn't live without a landline in my house. I don't own a Palm Pilot or a Blackberry. The extent of my mobile technology is playing video poker while on the toilet.

I also work for a newspaper that focuses more energy on hardcopy than software. Our bread is buttered by the local businesses that pony up for print advertising. Our website allows us to archive stories and let readers outside our coverage area to follow local news. But by no means does it offer the kind of complete news picture our paper does.

Evidently, we're a dinosaur ... or at least soon to be one. Rovell reports that only six percent of sports executives think fans will obtain their sports information from newspapers in five years; 25 percent predicted they would receive it from a wireless device.

This revolution goes beyond how people get their news. It's also about who will produce and report the news. Blogging is the tip of an ever-expanding iceberg. Podcasting and satellite technology are going to allow for niche programming that could never financially survive in the mainstream. But with limited costs and minimal effort, media could become tailored to the individual, focused to the point where a Redskins fan could not only listen to a Redskins-only show, not only listen to a Redskins' special teams-only show, not only listen to a Redskins' special teams' punter-only show, but listen to a Redskins' special teams' punter coaches-only show.

And it'd still be more entertaining than Colin Cowherd...

If there's one thing I've consistently seen over the last decade, it's that as media becomes more fractured, so does society. Our parents grew up with three networks, five radio stations, and one newspaper. We're in a cultural moment in which there are 600 networks, 200 radio stations, and an Internet that offers every newspaper, magazine, webzine, newsletter, message board, and a blog about some woman and how funny her three stupid cats are.

We have no idea what we're talking about any more. Half of us are reading the same information — the "mainstream," for lack of a more pathetically overplayed term — while the other half is reading partisan viewpoints about sports, religion, and politics that are short on facts, long on minutiae, and pretty much turning public discourse into a gossip rag filled with 30-second scandals that are forgotten after the fourth "no comment." We've all retreated to our little corners of the Internet — message boards, fan sites, local online newspapers — that focus solely on our favorite teams and players rather than the big picture. Why sit through 25 articles on golf when you can head to a hockey board and get right to the latest example of how they're going to frack the game up this fall? Why sift through pages of baseball notes when all you want to read about is Michael Vick's nom de plume?

ESPN.com was one of the first corporate sports sites to recognize these fractures and try to tape them back together again. Its message boards were expansive yet team-focused, offering the chance to read about local teams on specific "clubhouse" pages and then rant about them on the boards. A few years ago, ESPN took that concept to the next level by creating its "SportsNation" cabal — a series of message boards filled with registered users, who could be prodded and polled to produce instant feedback on the issues of the day.

As technology changes, there seems to be one thing that does not: ESPN still thinks it is the reason sports exist, and not vice versa.

How else can one read this comment from John Papanek, senior vice president and editorial director of ESPN New Media, in Rovell's piece:

"Not all sports fans have an opportunity to come visit Bristol, Conn., but over the next decade, through ESPN.com, our readers are going to be able to virtually experience what it's like to be at the national intellectual sports capital of the world."The "intellectual sports capital of the world?"

Has this guy ever even read Bill Simmons?

I've spent time on the ESPN SportsNation boards. Well, wasted time to be more precise. The last time I dropped in — over a year ago, I think — "SportsNation" still seemed like a collection of 12-year-olds whose "intellectual sports capital" seemed to be limited to "Randy Moss is teh best WR evr" and "Jeter is sooooooooooooooooo gay."

Will this stop ESPN from attempting to turn this collection of knuckleheads and Internet geeks into something more than they are?

Of course not. As Rovell wrote, these people are going to be the official voices of their respective teams:

"Papanek envisions the day when Yankees and Red Sox fans will be in ESPN.com chat rooms watching another classic game on their computers. As these fans chat, characters who look like them mouth their opinions in real time as the fans talk into headsets. Papanek says fans potentially would then be able to rank the other fans, with the most vocal, passionate, and knowledgeable fans for each team then serving as 'team fan representatives.'"And now, an exclusive look at what ESPN SportsNation will look like in five years:


soxfan4lif: "LOL...nice play, A-Fraud!"


torreizgod: "U R A ******BAG!!!!!!!!!"


soxfan4lif: "Whatevr...Jeter is teh gay!!!!"


torreizgod: "F U!!! WE HAVE 228 WORLD SERIES TITLES, YOU A$!!!"

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the "national intellectual sports capital of the world..."

04-11-2005, 12:18 AM
That's funny. ESPN and "intellectual" should never be uttered in the same sentence.

Whoever the author of that article is, he's a great writer. Very talented.

04-11-2005, 01:04 AM
ESPN is teh suck. ESPN.com is even worse.

The kicker....I know where things are on that site, and I am afraid to change....ugh.

04-11-2005, 02:59 AM
Intellectual Capital vs. ESPN.

Exhibit A:


04-11-2005, 07:28 AM
ESPN leads the charge in the dumbing down of America.

04-11-2005, 09:28 AM
The thing that bothers me about ESPN is that, at some point, it moved from being a reporter about sports to influencing the sports themselves.

Hopefully, in the same way the MTV evolved into a network that no longer plays music videos or has much influence on popular music, maybe ESPN will evolve into a network that no longer shows sporting events. We'll just watch them on our wireless phones. ;)

Reds/Flyers Fan
04-11-2005, 10:16 AM
The future of ESPN? All their broadcast games MUST involve one of these five teams: North Carolina, Duke, Yankees, Red Sox and Lakers. In fact, let's contract all other teams and put those five in one overexposed division.

Crash Davis
04-11-2005, 05:42 PM
Intellectual Capital vs. ESPN.

Exhibit A:


Nicely done.

Idiot #1. Can you find #2 thru #15? Better question: Can you find a picture of Jay Mariotti wearing less make-up than my grandma?

Crash Davis
04-11-2005, 05:43 PM
ESPN leads the charge in the dumbing down of America.

Good stuff here.

04-11-2005, 06:08 PM
This won't be the first time I've reposted this, and I hope Crash doesn't mind; but this is a great opportunity to post one of the best written posts I've seen on this board. I saved a copy for myself in my files. It's a perfect summation of how I feel about ESPN.

Posted by Crash:

Funny, I read it and it rung very true. This is a new age in sports and sports marketing. This is the 21st century in sports business where ESPN branches out from scores and highlights to bigger (though not better) ventures including making movies. One of the consequences, I believe, is a major step backwards in target audience.

This isn't the ESPN of 20 years ago or even 5 years ago. Now we have Sean Salisbury and John Clayton playing "fact or fiction", Rob Dibble saying outrageous things just to be controversial, we have segments called "buying or selling", we even had a segment with Steven A. Smith as the hard core, militant (and black) new guard versus Skip Bayless as the conservative "things were so much better when..." voice. ESPN's segments have been watered down to the point where not much is left beyond product placements and silly self-aggrandizing interviews sponsored by beer companies. At ESPN, shades of grey are for yesterday's sports fan. Following the example of Fox TV in the early 90s, ESPN now plays exclusively to the lowest common denominator -- the cheap seats.

I think Richmond's quote is dead-on. There are plenty of intelligent sports fans out there. Many are well rounded, diverse and come from a cross section of America. But I don't think they're the ones who are glued to ESPN eagerly awaiting "the truth" from Sean Salisbury or John Kruk in between watching two hot chicks peel each others clothes off in a fight over beers. It's easy to sit through ESPN's programs and commercials as they put your brain to sleep, unburdened by anything resembling a thought.

I don't know about you, but that's not me...as much as ESPN may want it to me to be. I'm no longer ESPN's target audience. I used to be 5-10 years ago. In all of their programming ESPN is after a newer and easier target now. And Richmond is right. The target audience is "the hard-core sports fan who obesses over ESPN." I'd say there is a significant difference between that species and the sports fan who is savvy enough to embrace subtlety.

I have little use for ESPN anymore. I do appreciate subtlety in my sports and certainly in my movies. And for the life of me, I can't see how anybody would watch a movie made by ESPN unless it was because they've been hammered by commercials convincing them they need to see the slop.

And further:

I don’t want it to come across that I think I’m above sports these days, or that ESPN doesn’t offer anything I want to watch. I still watch baseball and football games when they’re on, and once in awhile I’ll catch Baseball Tonight.

I’m from the Westside of Cincinnati. I still play softball two or three nights a week. I’m still known to put down a few tubs of beer and close the park on a regular basis. I’m in three fantasy football leagues and two fantasy baseball leagues. I probably buy 10-12 sports books per year. I guess my point is, I should be a sure thing as a target for ESPN and beer commercials. They should have no problem selling their products to me. The products already sell themselves as far as I’m concerned.

But I realized awhile back that, as much as sports (and beer) are a part of my life, I’m no longer the target audience for ESPN or the major beer companies. They’re aiming beneath me. Why do all beer commercials make me feel like a blabbering Neanderthal just for being a guy? I realize I probably take the issue a bit more seriously than intended, but I don’t think most guys realize the undercurrent running through sports/beer/advertising that encourages men to act like the Neanderthals they aren’t.

Honestly, I have a blast when I drink, and I do drink a lot (probably too much). In addition, I love playing and watching sports. But that doesn’t mean I have to go to my favorite sports bar to watch the Big Game and even bigger commercials while ogling women who are nothing more than phony definitions of beauty. Surely this is the coveted American woman, right?

When I watch ESPN’s commercials and the programming sandwiched between, I really do feel insulted that this is how they see sports fans. There are times when I sleep walk through the programming, but when I do wake up and realize the idea being hammered into my head, I feel like my IQ drops 50 points just for being a beer guzzling, sportsfan of a guy. And here’s the part that gets me: I know that’s not me, but they insist on making it me. I don’t despise my oddness or my deviation from the ESPN obsessed fan or those things that make me, after all, me. I want to preserve those things.

Right now I’m trying to picture what I don’t like about ESPN, and the picture in my head goes something like this: Stuart Scott is doing his best “Mark Jones in 1997” impression, rapid firing inner city slang even though we all know he’s never been within a mile of a playground in his life. Next to Boo-ya! is some overly ambitious, starved for face time, cliché spouting recent college grad whose job it is to introduce football “expert” Sean Salisbury. Salisbury is already doing a 180 from the truth he laid on us last week. John Clayton, who would make Classy Freddy Blassie proud, is brought in to argue for five minutes with Salisbury. Isn’t it fun to watch the 6’5’’ ex-jock who’s never had an original thought cross his mind in all of his 35+ years argue non-stop with the pencil neck geek? Here’s how it goes:

“I’m right, you’re wrong. No, I’m right and you’re wrong. Well, you’re a geek and what do you know about girls? Well you’re an idiot ex-football player (this one couldn’t be any closer to the truth).”

They’re still bickering about whether Donovan McNabb is a black guy or not as we go to commercial. The commercial is for more ESPN programming later that night or that week. Then a beer commercial with two hot chicks and two guys doing something really stupid to get their attention. Then three straight commercials for Hu$tle. Then a couple more commercials starring the overexposed "high-upside" athlete du jour.

We’re back. And now we have the Budweiser hotseat with Clinton Portis…otherwise known as another commercial. Dan Patrick soft tosses a few questions to Clinton about his “ride” and his “crib” just so we know we’re getting an exclusive. If there’s a difference between the segment I just watched and the “Leon” commercial I saw two minutes ago, it’s beyond my ken. I’m not supposed to notice that Budweiser and ESPN just mocked the type of me-first, smack talking, scandal ridden self-promoter that they always turn to for opinions on the contrived controversy of the week.

Coincidentally, here comes Stuart Scott’s interview with Warren Sapp, Deion Sanders, and Keyshawn Johnson. Afterwards, we’ll turn to Michael Irvin and Mike Ditka for black and white analysis of the smack-talk. Irvin and Ditka take turns spitting at each other for five minutes. Ditka said something about not letting the players get away with it, and I couldn’t understand a word of Irvin’s diatribe.

More commercials…and finally a Top 10 plays segment with a lame headline attached to each one, such as “Bonds Away” or “Freel-ing Good” or “Roger That.”

There's your Sports Center, sportsfans. Boo-ya!

Crash, I wish I had your gift of articulation.

04-11-2005, 07:04 PM
Thanks for reprinting that MWM.

Crash, that was one killer post.

Reds/Flyers Fan
04-11-2005, 08:54 PM
ESPN is like a bad umpire trying to steal the show. Instead of being a medium to report and broadcast sports, it became the story itself. In a way, ESPN thinks it's bigger than the games it purportedly promotes.