We all hate ESPN, but need it too

July 30, 2007

Larry Brown Sports had an excellent post the other day about how hypocritical sports bloggers can be. For those of you who are too lazy to click the link, basically, he writes that even though we all bash ESPN, we continue to link to it.

That reminds me of something I’ve always suspected. The overwhelming majority of sports bloggers, myself included, feel that the quality of the ESPN networks has declined over the years. ESPN is full of self-hype, self-promotion, making controversial and loud statements, and less about pure sports than it used to be.

But we still watch it. We have to — ESPN has a virtual monopoly in the sports world. They televise games we watch (Monday Night Football, Sunday/Wednesday/Monday Night Baseball, NBA, college football and hoops, etc.) And on TV, there’s few other places to turn to if you want to watch sports news. Fox Sports Net seems to have focused on regionalized programming, and reruns a lot of old games and programming. And the other sports networks that exist seem to focus on one sport (NFL/NBA network, The Golf/Tennis channel), one team (YES) or sports that few people watch (CSTV).

So we’re stuck with ESPN. And I hate that we are.

Growing up, I’d watch SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight and College GameDay religiously. Now, I still flip to those shows when I have free time and I’m watching TV, but a few minutes later, I flip away, disgusted at something stupid I just saw or heard.

If anyone was ever going to build a serious competitor to ESPN, now is the time. Now is when its viewers are getting sick of what they do. But until then, we have no choice — we’ll keep watching, at least a little.

Edit: As OSQ commenter Noah pointed out, I forgot to include the Versus and NHL argument. Versus is another example of a sports network that has mostly non-mainstream sports. And how little has ESPN covered hockey the past two years now that Versus has the rights?

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2 Responses to “We all hate ESPN, but need it too”

  1. Noah Says:

    “And the other sports networks that exist seem to focus on one sport (NFL/NBA network, The Golf/Tennis channel), one team (YES) or sports that few people watch (CSTV).”

    You know the imprtance of ESPN when the main sport ESPN doesn’t carry – hockey – can’t even get on to your list of other sports networks because it is stuck on Versus.

    I think what ESPN is really doing is trying to move away from an audience comprised mainly of sports geeks like us, and move towards a more mainstream audience by dumbing down a lot of their content and placing a greater emphasis on personalities. Remember that there’s a powerful theory in TV news that the personality or charisma of the anchor is critical for ratings, maybe more so than the substance of the program. (I don’t buy it in most cases for network or local news.) ESPN is also drawing a lot of the “talking heads yelling at each other” style that has developed in cable news. The sad thing is I think this will actually help them gain ratings, so they will continue to do it.

  2. Gilbert Says:

    How could I have forgotten Versus and hockey? I used to follow hockey too, before the strike, and watched some of the hockey playoff games on NBC.

    Noah, you’re exactly right about the talking heads yelling at each other theory. Unfortunately, it’s probably helping them draw in the mainstream TV viewer, alienating us who actually know and follow sports.

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