Thursday, July 2, 2009

ESPN Has Gone Black and Is Going Back

There's a decent read over at SI about John Skipper and EPSN's planned coverage for next summer's World Cup. The good news is that ESPN is pouring a lot of resources into the coverage

"I think our ambition level is going to exceed the ambition of any broadcaster in the world relative to the amount of content we will produce," Skipper said.

The bad news is that ESPN is still saddled with its own ESPN'ness.

If we're reading this correctly, ESPN will be doing SportsCenter from South Africa. This we really don't care about, although we're generally against America sending clowns overseas, even if temporarily. But where SportsCenter originates from is about one of the least interesting things we can conceive of.

Given the option, we'd rather have game announcers on location (cough *Champions League* cough) and Stu Scott fellating Tiger Woods on camera from a broom closet in Bristol. In fact if someone at the 4-letter could go ahead and misplace any key to that closet when Scott is in said closet, there's probably an award waiting for you in Stockholm.

Additionally, reading between the lines, it seems like the Mouse might be making a run at the Olympics in the not-too-distant future. And the next World Cup is sort of a stepping-stone of a Guinea pig's dress rehearsal. There are more than subtle hints of this in the article. An Olympic maneuver is only relevant to current purposes in how it relates to the ancillary programming for the upcoming Cup.

And given that this is ESPN—and American sports journalism in general—expect the worst:

Among the features planned: John Battsek and Michael Davies, two of the producers behind Once In A Lifetime... have been dispatched to interview every living player who has scored a goal in a World Cup final... Skipper also said the network plans to "take a page out of the ABC Sports Olympic playbook [sic] and do "Up Close and Personals" on players from around the world. ESPN will do a long-form feature on at least one player from all 32 World Cup teams.
The goal-scorers interview. Not bad. The 'up close and personal' nonsense? Fuck. And. Me.

God, it was only a matter of time before someone at ESPN thought to burden the coverage with this hackneyed tripe (and just curious, but isn't that NBC's Olympic playbook?). It's the bane of all American sports reporting.

Guess we can infer that Tom Rinaldi will be on the flight to Jo'Burg. Worse, it probably means Rick Reilly will be, too.

It's the least imaginary type of programming available. And soccer viewers generally don't give a shit. Really, I don't know much about the personal lives of anybody on my favorite EPL team—save maybe that Bendtner isn't a particularly big fan of pants—and I like it that way. The game is the thing. Period.

I don't need to know who overcame an illiterate mom with Super AIDS before his brother gave up his only pair of shoes so that his undersized sibling could attend a makeshift talent camp where he was plucked from obscurity and rescued from his war-torn homeland blah bah blah.

I already know that when a country lines up to play a World Cup match, the entire nation (save for ours) and much of the rest of the world comes to a halt. Simply by tuning in I am a part of something bigger than all of us, something global. That is enough to keep me glued to even an Angola v. Paraguay match.

Am I extrapolating recklessly from a data point of one? Yes. Does that make my assessment wrong? Doubt it. This type of support programming is for housewives and little girls. It might be "necessary" (or maybe just lazily appropriate) for things like the Olympics, where many sports only get that level of exposure once every four years and viewers would otherwise have nothing to draw them to not turn off Trampoline or Rhythmic Gymnastics, but soccer is the world's most popular sport. Treat it as such.

I realize to an American audience that soccer might seem like the Olympics as its something we generally only pay attention to once every four years; but If ESPN presents soccer to people in the same way it presents Olympic Handball, then they are almost telling the audience they are trying to build, "Hey, thanks for letting us emotionally blackmail you watching the World Cup. Now go back to ignoring soccer for the next four years." Twenty-plus years of that type of Olympic packaging has conditioned the audience.

By going 'up close and personal' ESPN is not only going to irritate people who are already fans of the game, they are going to undermine their own attempts to build a larger audience as they move into airing more soccer programming (assuming they do indeed plan to start programming more soccer).

So, we'll fight the urge to issue a preemptive scream of 'ESPN GO FUCK YOURSELVES AND STOP RAPING OUR COLLECTIVE PSYCHES WITH THIS EMO PORN!' and instead politely ask anyone from Bristol who might stumble across this to seriously rethink how they want to present the World Cup.

We understand if Skipper doesn't understand how wrong he is in this approach. He is a Tottenham fan after all, so being delusional is in his nature.

You've got a year still, ESPN. Nothing is set it stone. You don't worry about sunk costs going forward. Just the margin. The Mouse can cover it.


Mike Georger said...

Any announcement on the game calling teams yet? The studio host rumors were encouraging but lead me to believe they'll bump Foudy up to games, because there is no God.

The NY Kid said...

I don't need to know who overcame an illiterate mom with Super AIDS before his brother gave up his only pair of shoes so that his undersized sibling could attend a makeshift talent camp where he was plucked from obscurity and rescued from his war-torn homeland blah bah blah.

Joey Barton? Robbie Fowler?

hadley said...

There were 147 goals scored at World Cup 2006, I think we can expect to hear a lot of "the ol' onion bag." Shoot me now.

epiblast said...

NBC is notorious for only focusing their Olympic coverage on just athletes from the States, let's hope 'the four letters' understand that there is a whole other world out there.
Also, i really hope they don't cover the World Cup the way they cover other 'Merican sports. Take a cue from long time broadcasters like Sky and even Setanta, they did it right.

Nathaniel said...

...with Super AIDS

Cookie Johnson would like to know more about this.

Mike Georger said...

I'm not tuning in to the Olympics to watch England suck dick at pretty much every sport not involving badminton, I'm tuning in to watch the Americans battle the Evil Chinese, just like most people who are watching. The Olympics are the ultimate jingoistic event, and as it's an American network, I expect them to give me an American focus and rightfully so.

Johnny said...

By Sportscenter at the World Cup, they mean 3 football people talking about football with Soccer City Stadium in the background. Much like Sportscenter at the Super Bowl. They will still have people in Bristol and LA doing the other sports, and toss it down to SA for the footy coverage, which I think is great.
As for announcers, Martin Tyler and Jose Mourinho are two names that ESPN is allegedly pursuing.

hockalees said...

As for announcers, Martin Tyler and Jose Mourinho are two names that ESPN is allegedly pursuing.


Mike Georger said...

Mourinho will be busy moving to Anfield during those weeks.

/getting ready for the first home draw of the season

Jerry Hinnen said...

Yes, what an awful, horrible thing it will be as a soccer fan for ESPN to provide an unprecedented, over-the-top level of coverage of, you know, soccer. No way will I want to give up five minutes of halftime that could otherwise be spent listening to the expert analysis of Julie Foudy and Tommy Smyth to hear stories about players who have had to escape war zones or crushing poverty or political oppression to reach the world's biggest athletic stage. ESPN should clearly go back to just not giving a crap, or even better, they can just give the rights back to TNT so we can miss goals while commercials run during live play. Score!

(Seriously: yes, NBC's personal stories are aggravating, but that's because 1) they drown us in them 2) because they show them at the expense of live action 3) they're nearly all about American athletes. Seeing as how the "One story for each of the 32 teams in the Cup" plan doesn't sound like it'll do any of those things, I can't fathom why you've got your panties in such a wad over this.)

Precious Roy said...

Yes my panties are in a wad. ESPN doesn't know the meaning of the words 'taste' or 'restraint.'

When they do these types of interest pieces they are just the sappiest lumps of warm crap, designed to be a hook in for people who don't otherwise care about the game. "Oh, I couldn't find Chile on a map, but now I want to see the Chilean team because they've got the left back who was raised by wolves." (And I don't mean learned to play at Wolverhampton).

It's a false option to say this kind of crap is better than Julie Foudy. ANYTHING is better than Julie Foudy. She shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a camera for the World Cup (unless they want to maybe let her clean the lenses). Period. Then the decision is what to do with all of those Foudy-free hours of programming.

Sorry, I just think this is a signal for how the 4-letter is going to try to get Americans interested in soccer going forward. And I think it's destined to fail with the additional cost of irritating actual soccer fans.

$100 says they are also going to try to install a sideline reporter to ask pointless questions.

People I've introduced to EPL and La Liga who have taken to it now watch American coverage and ask, "Why don't they just shut up, follow the ball and let the game speak?"

Really, ESPN should take notes from how other countries do this instead of taking what they know about producing American sports and trying to drape it over soccer.

Love The Smell Of Burning Vuvuzela said...

I understand the general concerns about the human-interest stuff during the Olympics broadcasts. Because yes, some of it gets really cloying and mawkish and seems to air at the expense of actual event coverage.

But I'm not sure I buy the leap that it conditions viewers to care about these sports only every four years. Long before NBC made an art of human-interest features in the 1980s, people already didn't give a damn about archery outside the Olympics.

The typical American -- even the typical soccer-bashing American -- is well aware that soccer is the world's biggest sport. They're well aware that it has a rich, ongoing narrative outside the World Cup. I think they'll view these personal features more as a primer on a bustling universe they don't keep daily tabs on -- not as emotional blackmail to tune in for a couple of weeks.

I will say that in general, I'm done with ESPN-bashing. If it's down to the point that we're splitting hairs about the nuances of their massive, overwhelming coverage of a soccer event, then there's truthfully nothing left to complain about.

Precious Roy said...

Re: General ESPN bashing I don't want to do it. Or I don't do it just because it's ESPN and they are the 363 kg gorilla.

I actually want ESPN to get EPL rights (and I've gone back and forth many times on all the positives and negatives on this). But it ultimately comes down to this: I want my country to be good at this game on an international level. In order for that to happen we need more kids playing the sport. And for that to happen, for kids to think "Hey, maybe I'll pick up a soccer ball instead of a basketball today" the sport has to have the kind of exposure that really only ESPN can give it at this point.

But I have a lot of reservations about how ESPN goes about presenting sports. They have clowns doing coverage. They make all baseball (which I also love) about the Yankess v. the Sox and nothing else. They play to highlights that glorify individuals. Etc. The list is lengthy.

So, yeah, if I've got a chance to voice legitimate concerns going in, I'm going to do it.

We bitch because we care. And we care way more than we should.

Smits said...

Well, that's one reaction. Seems a little (aka extremely, shockingly disturbingly) cynical though.

As far as I know, they are still going to show the games, they are just going to show this stuff in addition, so you can just ignore it, and then you don't have to whine and moan about it like a nancy.

The Fan's Attic said...

I'm just wondering when they exactly plan to air this schmaltzy stuff. They have a brief halftime and some pregame and postgame shows and maybe during the first round they have a whole hour between games, but I don't know when they will really fit this stuff in.

The Olympics are tailor made for this idea because they can broadcast the sports whenever and they can jump around a lot because there is so much going. They also can tease people into staying on the channel with upcoming events.

But, with soccer ESPN can't really do that. I don't see the eyes really staying on the tube when there isn't a game on. Maybe it doesn't matter that the revenue may not make up for the expense because it is a dress rehearsal for something larger. The logistics just don't seem to work out.

Although, ESPN does have the luxury of being able to insert these vignettes into the 17 times it shows sportscenter.

Precious Roy said...

You can call me a 'nancy' that's fine, but to not be cynical when it comes to ESPN is to not have watched it.

Spectator said...

Not much to add, except that I kind of like Shaka Hislop's analysis.... But I'm sure he'll be fired by the time the 2010 WC rolls around.

Precious Roy said...

I kind of like Hislop, too. From which I would also infer that he won't be there.

I think Ray Hudson should call every Argie game. But I know he's not everyone's cup of Red Bull.

Jerry Hinnen said...

"Really, ESPN should take notes from how other countries do this instead of taking what they know about producing American sports and trying to drape it over soccer."

Please explain what other countries do during halftime, studio shows, etc. that's so much better than the personal interest reports ESPN's proposing here. Because that's all we're talking about, right? Yes, ESPN's producers and announcing crews need to do a much better job toning down the "narrative" during the actual in-game broadcasts (one of many reasons the O'Brien/Balboa pairing last WC was apocalyptically bad) but that's a separate issue from what happens during halftime or SportsCenter segments ... which from everything I've seen is no better across the pond than it is on the WWL. Unless you think Setanta's puppet shows are a stroke of genius or something.

Precious Roy said...

Jerry, where did I say 'halftime'?

I'm talking about everything: bad announcers who don't know how to let the game talk for itself (or ones like O'Brien who lack even basic knowledge of the game), personalities who try to make themselves bigger than the games, superfluous sideline reporters, etc.

Precious Roy said...

But I will take Special One TV over Lalas any day.

The NY Kid said...

I'll say it - I don't like Ray Hudson. He sounds too much like he is over-pronouncing everything with a Spanish accent.

Precious Roy said...

"Don't ever call this team a machine, they are botanical."

I love Hudson.

Bigus Dickus said...


Halftime is for 3 smart, intelligent, experienced soccer players/managers to disect the first half using graphics and to pick the bones out of individual and team performance.

That's what happens in England and that is what most want. Please note that intelligent, experienced soccer pundits do NOT include, John Harkes, Alexi Lalas, Tommy Smythe or Rocky Balboa.

Mourinho, Tyler, Shearer, Oneil, Mcmanaman, Hislop etc etc.

MoonshineMike said...

How are the quality of the ESPN Deportes announcers? I am wondering if it would be better if it was broadcast in spanish so we can either follow along the words, or ignore them?

Teeknuts said...

If Rick Reilly is going to be in South Africa, I might have to shoot myself.