"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.
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…. 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.
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 are a part of my life, I’m no longer the target audience for ESPN …. 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!"