ESPN column strikes a nerve

Lots of reaction on this morning’s look at ESPN. For the record, when I said that the games for ESPN are a show, it isn’t exactly breaking news. The “E” in ESPN actually does stand for entertainment. Not only do I understand what they’re doing, I subscribe to it, to a point. The fact is, if only the hard-core sports fans read my column in the morning, then I’m missing out. If, at least on some days, I don’t include something that will be of interest to a wider audience, then the column won’t be as successful as it should be.

I like Vitale, but I only get to hear him on a handful of games a year. So when I mention how announcers talk about everything under the sun, readers chimed in with a vengeance. I got into this a little bit in a column last year when I discussed ESPN’s training of “concentric circles” with its announcers. It looks like a bullseye, with the game in the middle, and then other teams in the country in the circle outside that, then the conference, then the national picture, then culture in general. It’s designed to pull in a wider audience. It makes good sense, but it also drives some of its viewers nuts.

Which seems to be true of ESPN as a whole. Not many responses on ESPN.com, though, which is hard to argue is the gold standard of sports web sites.

Anyway, on to a few responses.

From Howard Haridson: Hey Eric, did you catch the UK-Vandy football coverage? I tried to ignore the on and on and on comparisons in GPAs but had to go for the radio when Notre Dame’s old coach (Bob Davie) could not let his sidekick’s discussion of SEC’s attendance record go without comment. I am paraphrasing a litle due to old brain cells and the effects of low caffeine, but Davies said that the SEC’s attendance at games was due to the need in the SOUTH for an OPIATE. Even I caught that one.

Andrew Oost: I appreciated your column today, “ESPN getting way to big for its britches.” I’ve often echoed the same sentiment. ESPN is becoming the MTV of the sports world. It’s more about entertainment than music (sports), and instead of catering to the tastes of the audience, they are determining them. There’s nothing that can be done to slow down the ESPN juggernaut — people just need to be aware of what it is.

Vincent Schmidt: Thanks for your article about ESPN. It struck an already sensitive nerve of mine. For more than 15 years my wife and I had a standing date for Monday Night Football. We would rarely miss a game. In recent years we became very happy with Al and John’s style of covering the games. When ESPN took over, I found myself shouting at the TV, “Just cover the game you moron, I don’t care about the “story in the story.” Three guys who are trying to impress each other by talking too much. Don’t even get me started on “Tony Combover.” I have emailed ESPN to voice my displeasure but I doubt that they care what I think. We have finally re-scheduled our standing date to Sunday night. It’s not quite the same but until the ESPN gods rule in our favor, we will adjust accordingly.

Nicholas Benyo: Your column this morning on ESPN really hit home with me. Even when they were not the giant they are today, they frustrated me by making their reporting of sports news seem more important than the games themselves. Clearly they recruit entertainers as anchors rather than journalists–and have done so for years. For those of us who would prefer to get the scores and highlights without the accompanying efforts at humor, ESPN is aggravating at the very least. In the early days, Berman was somewhat unique in that he injected humor (“Odibee-young again-McDowell) without the pretentiousness of his many successors, from Keith Olberman to Stuart Scott et al. But, hey, it’s not all ESPN’s fault. They could argue correctly that they are providing what their viewers want.

Sadly, sports in general has taken on an importance for so many the likes of which seems preposterous in today’s world of wars, a failing economy, and other non-sports issues, and that’s what fuels the network’s arrogance and growth. I am proud to say that I have kicked the ESPN habit–except for live broadcasts that are of interest to me.

And one other thing…. I have a question for Jason Whitlock. You mean they weren’t ?????

Charles Curry: I hate to see anything that I want to watch being on ESPN. The anouncers seem to wander off onto something that took place 50 years ago instead of sticking to the live action taking place, then right in the thick of the action we haave to watch an update. You might be watching a football game and they reduce the screen to 1/4 the size, taking up the update in over 1/2 of your screen to tell you about baseball news or a horseshoe contest. I did not turn on the TV to watch that. Stick to the game on hand please.

And finally, a question from a reader:

Jeff writes: You must have some major sour grapes that Forde and Brian Bennett got picked for ESPN.com and you didn’t. Should you really be taking out your professional frustration in the paper like this?

Forde is one of the best sportswriters in the nation, and Bennett was very deserving and does a great job with the Big East blog. I think everybody in this profession right now would welcome a call from ESPN, but you can’t modify your opinions because of that. I wrote for ESPN.com for three years — as the C-USA and Sun Belt Conference “Insider.” I’m pretty sure I helped start the avalanche of Stefan Lefors ESPN love with this story, and got to write stuff like this weekly for the web site until it discontinued those notebooks and began to hire some of the best and the brightest — and Forde was in that first wave. Of course, I benefitted from that move, since I’m now in Forde’s old job. So I’m grateful to ESPN for many things, but it is what it is.

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