I don’t want to spend a great deal of time writing about ESPN because, clearly, that is not why people read this website. But… C’MON!!!!!…..
The story about the Blue Jays stealing signs is ridiculous and an indication of a much larger problem with the network: They have no competition. The chasm between local sports broadcasts and Sportscenter is so vast, that you when you compare them, you aren’t even really comparing the same thing. As a result of this, ESPN has begun to manufacture angles (if not just outright manufacture stories) in order fill the narrative necessary to justify at least 18 hours of live programming every single day.
Consider the chronology of this – again, ridiculous – story.
- ESPN The Magazine approves an investigative piece about allegations (from four anonymous relief pitchers, but whatever) that the Blue Jays are utilizing a man in a white shirt (!!!) who sits in center field and relays the basics behind each pitch being thrown. On this basis, the stories authors examine statistics from 2010 (when the Jays finished fourth) to steer people in the vague direction of their flimsy allegation.
- In anticipation of this piece, which ESPN is aware of before any other media entity, Sportscenter prepares a video package that highlights instances in games from 2011 (not 2010) where the Yankees and Red Sox catchers are using multiple signs with nobody on-base. Considering the army of subordinates at ESPN’s disposal, why not dispatch these minions to review every game tape from the 2010 season in hopes of catching this mystery man? Too logical? Instead, the video package is designed to highlight Jose Bautista (he of the 54 home run season in 2010 and the baseless steroid accusations, despite the fact he has undergone no noticeable physical transformation and baseball has a stringent anti-doping policy that continues to catch cheaters on a regular basis) as a way to further accentuate the seeds of doubt (and really, that’s all they are) generated by unnamed sources in the article.
- Once the video package concludes, Bobby Valentine (who once donned a fake tickler in the dugout after being thrown out of a game while managing the Mets) calls the construction of the aforementioned video package “unfair” and “misleading” on live television.
I’m not going to attack the statistical “evidence” used in the article. That’s being done very effectively all over the interweb. My issue is that the story was published and then produced as a television feature in the first place? How did that happen? The answer is simple.
ESPN, Sportscenter in particular, is no longer a news program; it exists to promote story lines that will eventually drive people towards ESPN’s programming.
Let’s imagine that a new media entity – owned by Mark Cuban – appeared from nowhere and spent an astronomical amount of money to purchase and broadcast all facets of the National Basketball Association; the draft, the regular season, the playoffs and The Finals. Then, in a move considered antagonistic, albeit somewhat clever, they refused to allow ESPN – or any other sports network – the privilege of broadcasting highlights from their television presentations. (Similar to what NBC does with the Olympics.) Instead, all rights were saved for Cuban’s version of Sportscenter and – of course – all clips were given to YouTube in HD quality video streams. In light of these developments how much time would ESPN spend “covering” the NBA? Would they retain Chris Broussard for daily updates during important stretches of the NBA off-season? Would they deploy a legal analyst to give updates on the state of the current lockout? Would they dispatch Rachel Nichol’s to Akron, Ohio in order to interview Lebron James about riding a bicycle and then promote said interview as an “exclusive”? (That happened.) The short answer is: No. They would do none of these things. The coverage of NBA Basketball would fall somewhere beneath NHL coverage despite whatever level of popularity it maintained. Why? Because the NBA would no longer serve the multi-billion dollar machine that is ESPN.
Further consider the three most acclaimed projects to originate through ESPN over the past several years. 1. Pardon The Interruption. PTI happened long before the rash of “original programming” that we see today. Furthermore, it stars two outspoken and established journalists who shaped their show in the image they saw fit. As a result, it (largely) exists outside the narrative ESPN is attempting to manufacture. (Sort of like the infancy of Charlie Sheen’s Twitter as it related to mainstream media, before everyone became tired of it and started to feel sorry for him.) 2. 30 for 30. These 30 documentaries readily admit that the critical acclaim achieved throughout this lengthy endeavour happened in large part because they had virtually nothing to do with ESPN aside from its network airing the documentaries. Once a filmmaker agreed to participate, it was their production company, not ESPN’s, who brought it to completion. They choose the subject (within reason) and they got final cut. 3. Grantland.com – If everything was so perfect with the journalistic standards set forth by ESPN, than why would their most popular writer risk his career to start a separate venture (albeit, under the ESPN umbrella) that offered him significantly more creative control? He wouldn’t.
It’s simply impossible for me to view ESPN (with the notable exception of the three entities mentioned above) as anything other than the sporty version of Fox News. So, in truth, I shouldn’t let it bother me at all. As I dip further into the entertainment industry I can’t help but notice how many things are “produced”. You know that place called “Joan’s on Third” that you constantly see in US Weekly or People Magazine? I went there today with a friend. The food tastes like shit. Meaning, people go there for the singular purpose of being photographed and ending up in a magazine or on a gossip site. Fine. Half the couples you see in celebrity magazines are paired by publicists to generate buzz around their respective careers or quiet rumours about their sexual orientation. Also, fine. In fact, it’s more than fine. I think it’s fucking awesome and I’m proud to be part of an industry that does such a fucking fantastic job at shaping perceptions and cranking out quality content. Hollywood is responsible for a hugely disproportionate amount of the worlds entertainment and their grip is only tightening. Good for us because we know exactly who we are and what we’re supposed to do.
ESPN knows what it is too. But it’s pretending to be something else.