At one time, ESPN really was “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” that they so often claim to be. Now, however, the network should be called “The Worldwide Leader in Sporting Events.” The channel has climbed into bed with so many entities that it can no longer be viewed as an objective purveyor of sports news coverage.
Over the weekend we paid close attention to see how much coverage ESPN would give to Florida State booster Andy Haggard’s rant against the ACC’s contract with the network. In terms of homepage coverage on ESPN’s website, there was none. Not a blip, not a blurb, not a headline that we saw.
Even though the most powerful booster/trustee at a traditional football power had shivved his own school’s administration and the Atlantic Coast Conference while inviting other leagues to contact his school… “the worldwide leader” (small caps) remained mum on the subject. On Monday a couple of ESPN’s college sports bloggers took up the topic, but not to any great degree.
Yesterday, ESPN’s Burke Magnus — the senior VP of college sports programming — wrote a short defense of ESPN’s deal with the ACC on something called ESPN Front Row (yet another of ESPN’s endless offshoots):
“The new agreement with the ACC provided a win for all involved. Fans will be served with more ACC content than ever before through a wide variety of outlets, devices and technologies. ESPN added value through four more years of an ACC agreement, plus more football games, more basketball games, more ACC sports content and new sponsorship rights for conference championships. The ACC has received significant additional financial compensation and unprecedented exposure for the added value and the longer term.
While ESPN has televised college sports for more than three decades, we recognize the rights landscape is evolving and more competitive than ever, and fans are savvier about their content choices. Our company works hard to provide fans with the widest selection of content from the schools and conferences they love.”
No doubt. And no one does a better job of covering live games and events than ESPN.
Unfortunately, what was once a go-to leader in real, honest-to-God news coverage is no more. By becoming a partner of the ACCs and SECs of the world and by buying the BASS leagues of the world and by starting and owning college football bowl games, the network has killed its news credibility. (It’s also become larger and richer than any sports entity in history and for that we salute the network. We’re not saying ESPN’s leaders aren’t dadgum sharp and savvy.)
I’m not a man who watches bass fishing on television. In fact, I suspect if I ever find myself in Hell, fishing weigh-ins will be on television ’round the clock accompanied by a soundtrack of songs by The Carpenters. Still, I do know there are two fishing leagues in existence. BASS — which is owned and covered by ESPN — and FLW — which gets practically nary a mention on “SportsCenter.” So is ESPN’s coverage of BASS news? Or is it promotion for ESPN programming?
Ditto the network’s coverage of the New Mexico Bowl, The Hawai’i Bowl, the BBVA Compass Bowl and more. For that matter, as a friend pointed out to me the other day, those long-running “SportsCenter” ads featuring current coaches and athletes remain delightful. But does shooting an ESPN promo with Player X impact the amount of coverage ESPN dedicates to Player X if/when he’s arrested for drunk driving or beating his wife?
When a news organization has to put out an article defending its television contract with an athletic conference, it’s stopped being a news organization and simply become a programming organization. Here’s hoping someone with enough money and chops to do actual news coverage — Yahoo! Sports, I’m looking at you — can step up and fill the sizeable void in news gathering that ESPN has decided to leave wide open (without ever admitting that it’s left it wide open, of course).
It’s a darn shame, too. Before “SportsCenter” turned into a video game aimed at teenagers, it was an important, relevant source of true news for sports fans.
Now ESPN is left mostly silent when its own dealings become news, emitting only press release-type spin from a little-read web page. Oh, to have more Bob Ley and less Skip Bayless/Stephen A. Smith gibberish.
Sidenote — Something in Magnus’ release might interest a few remaining SEC fans who can’t seem to grasp that adding Missouri and Texas A&M will force ESPN to cough up more dough to Mike Slive’s league via an expanded contract or a new SEC Network partnership:
“… the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse as ACC members triggered a composition clause in the existing agreement. This clause is designed to allow for both partners to address the value of the conference taking into account the change in membership. There was no specific valuation formula based on total number of schools or on a per school basis. It is not an “out clause” nor does it trigger a complete renegotiation of the entire agreement. Again, conference composition clauses are standard in our industry and are part of every ESPN college rights agreement.”
For those who’ve wondered, there’s a definitive mention from ESPN of the “look-ins” Slive has mentioned previously. And if the ACC could get a slight bump by adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh, expect the SEC to get a major bump by adding Missouri and Texas A&M (bigger markets, more cable households).