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macro
03-16-2009, 01:28 AM
Some of the things this person says have been voiced as complaints by people on this board over the years. I love what she has to say. I just hope someone at ESPN is listening.

I was hoping she'd mention the omnipresent scrolling ticker that repeats the same scores and headlines ad nauseum during game broadcasts. I am very distracted by reading the same stuff fifty times during a two-hour telecast. It has reached the point to where I dread watching games on ESPN.

Anyway, here's the article...


http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=schreiber_leanne&id=3983722

Sunday, March 15, 2009
ESPN's excess root of fan frustration
By Le Anne Schreiber
ESPN ombudsman

It has been two years since I first logged on to the ombudsman's mailbag, wondering what I would find there and how I might use it to guide this column. What I found was a goldmine of informed, passionate, often eloquent complaints from fans who want to love ESPN as much as they love sports. My initial and lasting response to this mail, now totaling close to 30,000 messages, was to think, I will never be able to do justice to the volume, intensity, variety and legitimacy of these concerns.

My approach to that mail and this column was determined to a great extent by the arithmetic -- the long division of 30,000 messages by 24 columns. Month by month, I tried to find the common roots of complaints that sprouted from the vast terrain of ESPN's many programs and platforms.

For this final column, I set myself the task of digging deeper, of trying to find the tap root of discontent from which the whole blooming variety of complaints emerge. The goal was simply to leave one last message to ESPN from the fans who wrote me.

When I cast my mind back over two years of mail, searching for that taproot, the first word that came to mind was "arrogance." That wasn't the word most frequently used by fans, but accusations of arrogance were implicit in the many complaints I received about specific anchors who imposed their personality on the news, announcers who elevated their own chatter over the game at hand, commentators who leapt to the absolute in a single shout, columnists who heaped scorn on minor sports or minor markets, and the relentless corporate "me, me, me" of multi-platform cross-promotion.

If arrogance were indeed the taproot, the message to ESPN from fans would be simple: "Get over yourselves, it's not all about you." And if arrogance were the taproot, the solution would be as simple as ESPN asking the loudest and most self-smitten of its many personalities to tone it down.

I'm convinced that measure alone would cut the ombudsman's mail in half, but I'm not convinced it would be the solution to what ails ESPN's fans most deeply. Arrogance may only be a symptom of the second vice that came to mind when I thought about those 30,000 messages: excess.

Again, excess is not the word my correspondents used most frequently, but it is the root of all the "too much" mail I received -- as in too much Manny, T.O. and A-Rod; too much Yankees, Red Sox, Cowboys and Patriots; too much Joba, Kobe and Brady (both Tom and Quinn); too much Hansborough, Tebow and Duke; and way too much Favre.

The killjoy effect

Much of the "too much" mail I received came from fans who wanted to see their own favorite teams and players get a fairer share of coverage. More telling was the mail I received from fans of ESPN's favored few. "Favre was one of my favorite players in the NFL," wrote a fan from Kansas City, MO. "Now I'm just sick of hearing about him."

Although the killjoy effect can linger for years, it takes less than a season to engender. "Why don't you write about how ESPN's over-coverage is killing interest?" a fan from Seattle asked in January. "The latest example is [Davidson College basketball star] Stephen Curry, who was a joy to watch during the NCAA tournament last year, and now ESPN has already begun to wring every last drop of joy out of watching him."

The allergic reaction to over-coverage can also be seen in the results of some SportsNation polls on ESPN.com. Toward the end of the NFL regular season, the poll question -- "Do you want to see Cowboys in playoffs?" -- got a 70 percent "No" response. Asked if "Brett Favre should return to the Jets," 72 percent answered "No."

When a sports media empire repeatedly turns fans off some of sports most talented players, both established and emerging, something is wrong. And yet the message from fans that I have found hardest to impress on ESPN's executives and talent is this: The predictable day-after-day dominance on ESPN of certain marquee teams and players is making a lot of fans both heartsick and cynical.

Why does ESPN resist the message? Because they see strong counter-evidence in what matters most -- event telecast ratings. Marquee teams and superstar players draw the audience that justifies the escalating billions ESPN pays in rights fees. From a telecast-ratings perspective, there seems to be no such thing as too much Yanks, Red Sox, Cowboys, Patriots, Manny, Kobe ... you know the list.

What event ratings can't tell you

I can't argue with that reality, and the fact is, most fans don't argue with it, either. Most fans who write me don't object to watching marquee teams or superstars play. What they object to is announcers or analysts or anchors who place grossly disproportionate emphasis on one superstar's performance, as if football or baseball or basketball were an individual sport played against a nameless opponent.

They object even more vehemently to announcers who, when assigned to games without marquee appeal, divert their attention from the teams actually present to the more ESPN-favored teams playing on the field of announcer dreams.

Fans don't object to ratings-driven decisions about what games to telecast, but they do object when that selection dominates other kinds of programming, in the form of excessive advance promotion or post-game hoopla on SportsCenter. ESPN's post-game attitude seems to be: We have the footage and the crew there live, so why not make the most of it, whether or not the game warranted it? Fan attitude seems to be: We just saw that game or chose not to, and it's late, so please give us the other news of the day.

Sometimes, ESPN seems to forget that the loyal audience of its studio programming is a subset of those who drive up ratings for the marquee events, and that by appealing to the star-struck, they risk losing the committed sports fan, whose interest runs deeper.

The last message

In a previous column (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=schreiber_leanne&id=3580854), I wrote, "The endlessly swirling synergy of events programming continuously reinforced by pre- and post-event shows, by preseason and postseason shows, by news shows that cover those events and by opinion shows that derive their topics from those events is a business model both extremely effective and extremely transparent."

I would like to revise that statement by deleting "extremely effective." We now know that any business model based on the assumption the rich can get endlessly richer is bound to implode.

That is why, when searching for the taproot of discontent within those 30,000 messages, I settled upon the excesses of coverage that provoke fans to send me their virtual shouts of "MAKE IT STOP. PLEASE. IT'S TOO MUCH." Those viewers are sounding a potentially empire-saving alarm.

Over-coverage of the favored few teams and players not only kills joy through its sheer tedium, it is also the root of fan grievances about bias, about cross-promotion, and about corporate conflict of interest. I suspect the perceived arrogance of particular ESPN personalities would become a small-potatoes complaint if it were not magnified in fans' minds by the consequences of other forms of excess.

So what's the one last message I want to leave ESPN? I guess it would have to be: Don't be so predictable. Subtext: Stop trying to make the publicity-rich ever richer. Spread the wealth around before fans turn on ESPN the way investors have turned on bankers.

Chances of message getting through?

Actually, over the long haul, I think the chances are pretty good. If you step back and take the long view, a perspective advanced years forces on me, you will realize ESPN did not become the phenomenal success it is by underestimating the intelligence of the sports fan. As someone who ran a sports department in the pre-ESPN era, I can tell you that the average fan is incomparably more informed about every aspect of what makes a sport tick than was once imaginable.

It was ESPN that peeled back the layers for fans -- revealing how players, teams, coaching staffs, front offices, leagues and conferences, their marketers and commissioners, agents and recruiters mesh. Knowledge once considered arcane is now elementary education for ESPN's audience.

It is too late for ESPN to dial it back or dumb it down, too late to satisfy the savvy core audience it created with the thin gruel of sound bites, shouting heads and the celebrations of the obvious. If it wants to sustain the success, ESPN has no choice but to keep getting smarter. Their audience demands it.

In my time as ombudsman, I have tried to be a conduit for that demanding audience, not only in this column but in hundreds of direct interactions with ESPN executives, producers, editors, reporters, columnists, anchors and analysts. Nobody has ever tried to shut me up or shut me out. They responded to my every request for information and explanation. They listened, agreed, disagreed, weighed what I had to say in your name as well as mine. That weighing will continue long after I am gone, because you will still be here, making your minds known to the next ombudsman and in myriad other ways.

At this writing, I do not know who my successor will be, but I trust he or she will pick up where you and I left off. I'll keep my eye on the mailbag for a week or so, but other than that, I am now one of you, just another savvy sports fan.

In parting, I want to thank all of you who wrote and all of you at ESPN who listened.

I'll miss you.

WMR
03-16-2009, 01:37 AM
Nice article, thanks for posting. It's definitely one of my primary complaints with ESPN.

What is an Ombudsman, exactly? I mean, are her observations supposed to guide changes at ESPN or something?

*BaseClogger*
03-16-2009, 01:51 AM
:clap: Thanks for sharing.

I don't see ESPN ever changing. They are just like MTV. Sure, the hardcore fans get turned off, but mass appeal is almost always more profitable. I'm more disappointed that a true competitor hasn't emerged. Luckily, we are slowing seeing more specialized programming such has the NFL Network, Big Ten Network, MLB Network, etc. that meet the specific demands we diehards crave so much...

Caveat Emperor
03-16-2009, 02:07 AM
ESPN is, and always has been, a numbers game. 18 million people in the New York metro area equals the endless A-Rod coverage and the Yankees always having a prominent spot on the network. 17 million people in LA equals breaking news updates every time Manny Ramirez has a bowel movement and college football coverage that acts like USC is the only team playing west of the Big-12.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

It's annoying, but they're the best game in town if you don't have the time to devote an hour to watching the MLB network, another hour to watching the NFL network, etc.

Roy Tucker
03-16-2009, 07:55 AM
By and large, the author's comments have been good ones over the last couple years. The guy they had before that was good too. How much ESPN listens to the ombusman is up for question. Maybe a little, but not much. I do find it interesting she waited till her swan song to make some of these comments though.

As others have said, its a numbers things. Ratings and advertising are what drives that business. Whateve they need to do to pump up those numbers is what they do. Everything else is secondary.

I'll take ESPN over no ESPN though. It's much better than 4 minute sports segments on the local news at 6 and 11.

PedroBourbon
03-16-2009, 08:58 AM
Great article. It won't change anything however. The "crawler" was especially annoying this morning as it was larger than usual to contain brackets for the NCAA tournament. Like people are really gonna use those rolling by faster than most humans could ever write. Most people are gonna print one out on line or photocopy the newspaper.

I think Duke will get their very own ESPN channel soon. ESPN 3, "The Duke." The Poll question today was "What number 2 seed should have been a number one?" Anything to get Duke out there.

westofyou
03-16-2009, 09:27 AM
Spread the wealth around before fans turn on ESPN the way investors have turned on bankers.


Too late, they already have lost 90% of my business. The NHL Network and MLB Network now own me.

lollipopcurve
03-16-2009, 09:40 AM
Too late, they already have lost 90% of my business. The NHL Network and MLB Network now own me.

Yeah. MLB Network looks good. The final death knell for ESPN is vibrating in my receiver.

Hoosier Red
03-16-2009, 09:45 AM
Nice article, thanks for posting. It's definitely one of my primary complaints with ESPN.

What is an Ombudsman, exactly? I mean, are her observations supposed to guide changes at ESPN or something?


from Wikipedia;

An ombudsman (English plural: conventionally ombudsmen) is a person who acts as a trusted intermediary between an organization and some external constituency while representing the broad scope of constituent interests.

Newspapers(well good ones) generally have an Ombudsman to listen to readers complaints and to try to articulate management's views on that.

For all the issues with ESPN, it took some (dare I say) onions to have an Ombudsman and to make the position so visible. I think the management does listen to the Ombudsman, but they still have a fiduciary responsibility to make as much money for Disney as possible.

westofyou
03-16-2009, 09:49 AM
ESPN is not in as big a Humpty Dumpty mode as MTV, but they are weaker now than they were 10 years ago about being THE national network.

But as I wrote before, we have come a long way baby and the past (specifically the pre cable world) sucked eggs.

http://www.redszone.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1209945

Hoosier Red
03-16-2009, 10:02 AM
ESPN is not in as big a Humpty Dumpty mode as MTV, but they are weaker now than they were 10 years ago about being THE national network.

But as I wrote before, we have come a long way baby and the past (specifically the pre cable world) sucked eggs.

http://www.redszone.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1209945

I think ESPN expects hardcore fans like you WOY to leave for more sports specific networks. Just as Time doesn't sweat losing the hardcore political junkies to The Economist.

Caveat Emperor
03-16-2009, 11:15 AM
I think ESPN expects hardcore fans like you WOY to leave for more sports specific networks. Just as Time doesn't sweat losing the hardcore political junkies to The Economist.

And really, when you think about it, ESPN has very little non-event programming in prime-time -- which is where they charge top dollar for ads and where ratings matter the most.

As long as sports fans can tolerate ESPN enough to continue watching games, they'll pretty much shrug off any and all other criticism. Viewers they get at other points during the evening and daytime (when they run the talking-head and SportsCenter stuff) are just gravy.

If it ever reaches a point where people who are otherwise MLB fans turn off a baseball game because ESPN has the coverage, or people who are NFL fans refuse to watch Monday Night Football because of the ESPN production and commentators, that'll be the first sign the network is in deep trouble.

Yachtzee
03-16-2009, 08:47 PM
And really, when you think about it, ESPN has very little non-event programming in prime-time -- which is where they charge top dollar for ads and where ratings matter the most.

As long as sports fans can tolerate ESPN enough to continue watching games, they'll pretty much shrug off any and all other criticism. Viewers they get at other points during the evening and daytime (when they run the talking-head and SportsCenter stuff) are just gravy.

If it ever reaches a point where people who are otherwise MLB fans turn off a baseball game because ESPN has the coverage, or people who are NFL fans refuse to watch Monday Night Football because of the ESPN production and commentators, that'll be the first sign the network is in deep trouble.

ESPN has already gotten to the point where their own hubris gets in the way of programming decisions. Saying that their decisions are ratings driven is a cop out. They may get great ratings in the Northeast, but if they keep neglecting other markets, they're just asking for someone else to step up the competition and start putting together a better channel. It won't take people turning off sports because of ESPN, it will just take someone else to step up and take over.

MWM
03-16-2009, 09:41 PM
Good article. She was much more tactful than I would have been. You'd think that being the sports nut I am, ESPN would appeal more to me. I used to watch loyally, but have not done so in years now. It's just not watchable. Like some have said in emails, ESPN can suck the joy out of just about anything. I spend probably less than 10 minutes a week tuned into their station, with the exception of when they have a game on I want to watch which isn't very often.

Unfortunately, I do not have the MLB Network, but I was at a Friend's over the weekend who had it, and I watched quite a bit of it. It was really good.

OnBaseMachine
04-14-2009, 11:58 PM
Bell makes media pitch

Padres closer Heath Bell said ESPN isn't giving the Padres enough credit.

“I saw John Kruk on 'Baseball Tonight,' and he said, 'They're playing real well, but I don't believe in them,' ” Bell said before Monday's game. “And I saw ESPN's promo for tonight's game. They mention the Mets are opening Citi Field, they mentioned the starting time, but nowhere did they mention the Padres. That gave me the (expletive).”

Bell was just getting warmed up in his pregame commentary.

“I truly believe ESPN only cares about promoting the Red Sox and Yankees and Mets – and nobody else,” said the closer, a former Met. “That's why I like the MLB Network, because they promote everybody. I'm really turned off by ESPN and 'Baseball Tonight.' When Jake Peavy threw 8 1/3 innings on Saturday, they showed one pitch in the third inning and that was it. It's all about the Red Sox, Yankees and Mets.”

http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/apr/13/padres-report-rotation05252/?padres

Eric_the_Red
04-15-2009, 08:32 AM
Good for Heath Bell to call ESPN out on it. You wonder why more athletes don't say similar things.

And I agree- MLB Network is the place for baseball news now.

macro
04-15-2009, 11:18 AM
Good for Heath Bell to call ESPN out on it. You wonder why more athletes don't say similar things.

And I agree- MLB Network is the place for baseball news now.

Agreed. I dont think I've watched Baseball Tonight this spring. If it's baseball news I want, I go to MLBN.

redsfanmia
04-15-2009, 11:21 AM
Agreed. I dont think I've watched Baseball Tonight this spring. If it's baseball news I want, I go to MLBN.

The only thing I watch ESPN for are games and honestly even those games are few and far between.

durl
04-15-2009, 11:36 AM
The only thing I'd watch on ESPN (besides games) was Baseball Tonight. Now that I get MLB Network, I've not watched a single second of Baseball Tonight this year.

Bell is exactly right. MLB Network covers ALL the teams very well.

MrCinatit
04-15-2009, 03:03 PM
ESPN is still around? How about that.

Eric_the_Red
04-15-2009, 03:36 PM
I do watch Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN2 quite often. Their baseball coverage is decent, with Buster Olney, Peter Gammons and Tim Kurkijen featured as guests quite often. Plus, I think Mike & Mike are very entertaining and don't "overhype" sports headlines as some other ESPN personalities do.

HBP
04-15-2009, 04:18 PM
I do watch Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN2 quite often. Their baseball coverage is decent, with Buster Olney, Peter Gammons and Tim Kurkijen featured as guests quite often. Plus, I think Mike & Mike are very entertaining and don't "overhype" sports headlines as some other ESPN personalities do.

It seems like every time I turn them on, Dick Vitale is babbling about a sport he has no clue about.

improbus
04-15-2009, 05:06 PM
Biggest issues w/ ESPN:
-Story Manufacturing (like any TO story)
-Abandoning sports that they don't actually broadcast themselves (the NHL in particular)
-Personalities overtaking the sport they are covering. I don't care what Chris Berman has to say about football. I don't care for the visitors to the MNF booth. What do they have to do with the game.

Basically, ESPN is the E! network with some games here and there.

paintmered
04-15-2009, 05:29 PM
I think today was the second straight day that the Cincy/Milwaukee game was not covered in the AM SportsCenter. Both days they had the game in the queue and the hour ran out before they got to it.

Chip R
04-15-2009, 05:52 PM
I think today was the second straight day that the Cincy/Milwaukee game was not covered in the AM SportsCenter. Both days they had the game in the queue and the hour ran out before they got to it.


This morning I got up and got ready for work. I turned on the MLB Network and while I was shaving, they had highlights of the Reds game on.

MLB Network: About the only thing MLB has done right for a while. Of course they still have time to screw it up.

redsfanmia
04-15-2009, 06:44 PM
To pile on ESPN how about that magazine they put out? I have never paid for it yet some how I get that terrible waste of trees every two weeks. I dont even look at it before I throw it in the trash.

Eric_the_Red
04-15-2009, 08:20 PM
To pile on ESPN how about that magazine they put out? I have never paid for it yet some how I get that terrible waste of trees every two weeks. I dont even look at it before I throw it in the trash.

:redface: I actually like the magazine.

macro
04-15-2009, 10:59 PM
Basically, ESPN is the E! network with some games here and there.

Well, they are the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, so I guess that's their excuse.

redsfan1966
04-16-2009, 12:13 AM
Yes, ESPN is horrific in their business of "creating stories"---but I am glad it exists. It wasnt that long ago when you were lucky if you got three to five games a week of all sports on "over the air" channels. Yes, the crawl is annoying, but once in awhile it does provide real "breaking news" and I do like having scores updated during the game I am watching. Plus, if you have an HD set, you can always set it to ZOOM and the crawl is eliminated. I also have become a big fan of ESPNews---it is like SportsCenter, only without the annoying feature pieces....

HBP
04-16-2009, 08:57 AM
Yes, ESPN is horrific in their business of "creating stories"---but I am glad it exists. It wasnt that long ago when you were lucky if you got three to five games a week of all sports on "over the air" channels. Yes, the crawl is annoying, but once in awhile it does provide real "breaking news" and I do like having scores updated during the game I am watching. Plus, if you have an HD set, you can always set it to ZOOM and the crawl is eliminated. I also have become a big fan of ESPNews---it is like SportsCenter, only without the annoying feature pieces....

Agree with that. It's usually quick and informative and you don't have to deal with personalities trying to take over.

Eric in IL
04-16-2009, 09:55 AM
But the crawl itself has gotten more annoying over the last year with these endless quotes from players, coaches, agents, etc. It drives me crazy. It takes so long to get through the scores. If it's baseball season, I just tune to MLB Network for their crawl and enhanced highlights.

macro
04-16-2009, 11:43 AM
I can't even concentrate on games on ESPN because my attention is constantly diverted to the crawl. There was one UK basketball game last year when they didn't have it, and it was great.