ESPN loves to discuss how it is sports-centric. Its main show is called “Sportscenter,” and its success had led the networks of the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL to copy its model for their main shows. However, for all of ESPN’s legitimate success and bragging rights, they have areas where they are severely weak.
Now, for the record, when I say ESPN, I am referring to the whole ESPN empire; their networks, radio, the whole nine yards, so don’t mince words about how ESPN 2 is different than ESPN.
1. ESPN has a legitimate east coast bias; their major debate show, ESPN 2’s First Take, is especially guilty; they completely ignored Matt Cain’s perfect game the day afterward, and rarely discuss 49er wins until mid-weak. They showed less interest when the San Francisco Giants won the NLCS than when the Detroit Tigers won the ALCS.
2. ESPN has shown little interest in mixed martial arts, and seems to purposefully ignore the UFC left and right, despite it being the largest growing organization in the largest growing sport. It’s not because so many of their events are on pay-per-view either; they cover boxing events (even if only for photos, clips, and updates) that are pay-per-view. It’s not because some of their events are on other networks; that’s not an issue with NBA, NFL, NHL, or MLB. That only leaves the possibility that someone doesn’t like the sport, and is blocking it on purpose.
Also, I acknowledge they have a show on it, MMA Live, but it airs at a very inconvenient time, and is quite dull.
3. ESPN is what largely sustains the bad college football atmosphere, and is one reason a playoff took so long to come around. By sustaining most of the smaller bowls, through airing them and thus subsidizing them, they perpetuated the cycle, and opened the door for the BCS cartel to come into place.
4. While I appreciate a good heartfelt story as much as the next guy, I am not fond of ESPN’s almost adolescent need to tell tear jerking stories, perhaps best exemplified by the My Wish week; don’t get me wrong, I love the idea. It’s just that I cannot get into it since they do so much of it the rest of the year.
5. It seems that everything with ESPN costs money. I recognize that they don’t qualify as basic cable, and am not suggesting that. What I am talking about it is that to open up the ESPN Radio app, it costs money. To access all their articles online, it costs money. The things that don’t cost money usually are accompanied by annoying ads, such as the live gamecasts for ESPN’s fantasy football (one reason I use the app, which fortunately doesn’t have ads or cost money).
I am also disappointed in the lack of foresight regarding WatchESPN, the app they so heavily promote. You would think that their initial reaction would be to make it readily available, and just straight simulcast their channels onto it, thus making not only their programming, but the accompanying advertisements more accessible. For any legal barriers, it wouldn’t be too hard to overcome them; it would increase their appeal to advertisers. However, they decided to block the advertising (which legally is probably an easier option), and limit it to cable subscribers (thus making a subscription more valuable, and allowing ESPN to raise their already high transmission fees, which ultimately gets passed on to us, the viewer).
Finally, and this is just an opinion, but I feel that ESPN sometimes lets style triumph over substance. This is apparent to me when I watch College Gameday, and you see Kirk Corso go nuts on camera; same in basketball with Dickie V.; in football, Ron “Jaws” Jaworski sometimes seemed a little too animated on Monday Night Football; the most notable is Skip Bayless, who seems to go crazy on cue once First Take starts. His counterpart, Stephen A. Smith, is usually more contained fortunately.
Now, I’m not saying a little style is bad. I like the smooth, almost glitzy manner in which they report the news. I like their hard-hitting stories, when they report them; E:60, although a knock-off of Real Sports with Bryant Gumble, itself a knock-off of 60 Minutes, is a great show. ESPN’s documentary series, 30 for 30, has produced incredible films about everything from Steve Bartman to the Marching Band of the Baltimore Colts to the Fab 5 of Michigan.
However, you cannot allow personalities to run over content; even if First Take was having great ratings when Skip Bayless made every debate about Tim Tebow, you wish that somebody at ESPN would have worried about the integrity of the show, which coupled with their lack of discussion about West Coast topics, has lowered its appeal to those of us in the Pacific Time Zone.
I didn’t go into every topic; that would take too much time. However, a lot of things ESPN has done wrong they continue to do wrong, and there is rarely a clear explanation why. I can only hope someone there comes around.