The Goods on ESPN- Part 2: Making It Better

I hope you found yesterday’s post enlightening as to some of the criticisms being levied against ESPN.  Some are valid, others, not so much.  Today I want to give you one man’s view on how ESPN can enhance its product for all its viewers.

Let’s get one thing straight. The accusations lodged against ESPN by reporters and bloggers are only opinions. What’s that old phrase about opinions and noses? You get the idea.  These are mine.  Take them for what they’re worth. Comment and give your view.

I have no doubt that what ESPN has been able to accomplish over the last 28 years, good or bad, was done with careful thought and planning.  It also was done, no doubt, with shareholders in mind.  We can jump on them all we want about their content. But if ratings are high and they can make mucho bucks, they will continue to do so.  No matter what we all say on our blogs, that’s the bottom line (pun intended).  You have to give ESPN their props for what they have accomplished.

Let me begin by pointing out what I like about ESPN.  I like the fact that they are so big. It may sound like I’m a corporate suck-up, but I like that they have sports covered, soup to nuts, like no one else.  One-stop shopping if you will.  Their blanket coverage of sports on television, radio, in print, and online has to be respected.

I think we all would like ESPN to face some credible competition.  There were contenders during the early years.  Remember CNN Sports Tonight?  Fox Sports tries to compete on the television, radio, and online fronts.  Sports Illustrated gives ESPN a run for its money in print and online.  But no one to date has been able to match the empire ESPN has built. Being such a force has made ESPN both loved and reviled.

My ideas for making ESPN better are relatively simple and hopefully take into consideration the interests of each demographic the network seeks to covet.

The basis of my proposal is to restructure ESPN’s programming divisions.  Currently the programming at ESPN is broken up into the following entities;  News and Information, Studio Production, Remote Production, and Content Development (this used to be entitled ESPN Original Entertainment or EOE). My idea is to pare those four categories into three divisions, similar to what you would see on the broadcast network level. I would rename them;  News and Information, Game Production, and Entertainment. The names are basic, and their jurisdictions should be as well.  Here is how I see the role of each division;

News and Information Division- This division would produce and coordinate all sports information and investigative reporting broadcasts. Among the programs under this division would be SportsCenter, Outside the Lines, the new E:60, and all the sports specific highlight shows which air on a nightly basis (College Football Live, NFL Live, Baseball Tonight, etc.). These news shows would be hosted by journalists, not entertainers acting as journalists. This would lend credibility to the productions and instill some trust and objectivity for the viewer. This would mean that a huge number of the SportsCenter anchors need to make a decision as to whether they want to be journalists or entertainers.  The journalists are welcome.  The entertainers can work for one of the other divisions.  I’m not saying that the anchors shouldn’t display their personality, but catch phrases and cute remarks would be discouraged.  ESPN Ombudsman Lee Ann Schreiber put it best in her August 8th post about the need for a serious news product:

“…just news and highlights, without gimmicks or sponsored segments or recaps, without self- or cross-promotion, with a consistent anchor team accountable for a consistent tone, with spare to no use of instant commentary. A prime-time island of clean, clear, straightforward news on which ESPN’s journalistic credibility could securely rest”.

Game Production- This division would handle the coordination of all game telecasts across each of the ESPN family of media outlets.  This includes pre and post-game shows. All play-by-play announcers and analysts fall under this umbrella.  So do the hosts and analysts of the pre and post-game shows.  Game production would allow for plenty of creativity both visually and through the imagination of the talent.  I would still hope that the announcers would be objective in their description of the game, but it’s not as important as if they were part of the News Division.  Programs like NFL Countdown, College Gameday, and NBA Countdown would be considered under the domain of the Game Production Division since they are pre-game shows.

Entertainment Division- This division would cover all other ESPN programming, from The Contender, to PTI, to Stump the Schwab, to its reality series and the ESPY’s. This is where ESPN can make its mark in reaching out to the younger demographics.  As I said yesterday, these programs have their place on the network.  It’s a great way to diversify the viewer base.  We may not like it, but we need to accept it.

A couple of points as to how these entities would work together.  I see no way to avoid the ESPN promotion machine continuing to use their platforms to shill their products.  I don’t expect the Budweiser Hot Seat to go away under my proposal.  That’s fine.  Just keep the content of that segment within clearly defined journalistic standards.

Each division would have its own talent base, with crossovers only within the Game Production and Entertainment Divisions. There is no need to jeopardize the integrity of the news staff by planting them in the play-by-play chair or having them host the ESPY’s.

Speaking of the news product, is it necessary to have two morning information programs on ESPN and ESPN 2?  I would re-produce SportsCenter with fresh anchors for a live telecast at 6am Eastern then follow-up with a First Take-type show from 7am-9am.  I would repeat SportsCenter for the West Coast crowd at 9am (6am Pacific).  If you want to repeat the First Take program again from 10am-12pm, that’s fine.  All this would air on ESPN.  I know this sounds like the Today Show, but it makes sense to me.

Now what to do with ESPN 2? I suggest ESPN go back to the days when it replayed its game programming from the night before. Why couldn’t this be possible?  I’m sure a little talk with the sports leagues could work this out.  You would satisfy an audience that, for whatever reason, couldn’t see the game live while giving the sports leagues greater exposure.  Who could be against that?

I would devote ESPN Classic to replays of historis sports match-ups and programming. Original game shows like Stump the Schwab could have a place here as would historical documentaries.  It doesn’t make sense to use the channel for live game programming. Create ESPN 3 for that.

I like It utilizes technology well and appears to possess more integrity in its reporting than SportsCenter.

As for ESPN Radio, that would fall under the Entertainment Division, except for the update reporters who would work for the News Division.

That’s my plan.  I will pass it along to the powers that be at ESPN.  I hope they read it and at least give it a little thought before it’s sent to the trash bin.  As always, thanks for reading!



  1. When you first suggesting paring the system from 4 arms to 3, it didn’t appear like it’d have that much of a dramatic change, but I think you nailed it with the important distinctions ESPN needs to make if they want to be taken seriously.

    It seems like most of the angst over the network lies in that gray area they inhabit between journalism and analysis. And it makes sense, considering a news report on a game is instantly kicked over to a talking head for his editorial input on Sportscenter. And then when you throw in anchors, the “serious” journalists of the bunch, who are dedicated to injecting their personality into their reporting, that goes pretty heavily against the journalistic code.

    If the Wall Street Journal published a news report on Burma, then at the end of the story began an editorial about the situation, it would similarly rub readers the wrong way.

    Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bringing in former players and experts for their analysis, but I think you’re right in that those boundaries need to be better defined.

    Right now, I think ESPN is trying to be all things to all people, and satisfying none. In an empire as big as theirs, there certainly is room to be had for all their projects, but the current practice of smashing them all together piecemeal creates a frustrating and confusing viewing experience.

    ESPN can be news. It can be entertainment. It can be game broadcasts. Just stop trying to make it be all at once.

    Nice work.

  2. You obviously aren’t a business person – look up ‘synergy’. No way they break it up. Hire an ombudsman with cojones – review all segments for conflict of interest – crack the heads of the offenders. Have a West Coast office – e.g. Vegas – to do the late night programming with a West Coast Bias – for us. Reign in the silly ‘reporter as the star’ idiots – someone gets too big for their britches – e.g. Stu – and they gone and end up doing infomercials in Little Rock. Leave the spelling bee and other silliness for ABC – stick to pure sports. Tone down the PC (Political Correctness) – women’s sports aren’t at the same level as their male counterparts – don’t try to convince us otherwise.

  3. I just want ESPN Classic to eschew its poker coverage. On this, perhaps my favorite of the ESPN family of networks, I think that rebroadcasts of classic games should be even more prevalent. Stump the Schwab’s okay, but otherwise its programming should consist of Celtics-Lakers of the ’80’s, previous World series games, etc. We need to get that Arliss garbage off the air. If Disney wants to cram reality programming down our throats, please create another channel, similar to ESPNU, and make it a premiere channel so it’s not available to those who only purchase basic Dish Network or Direct TV packages. If it’s specialized programming, those who want to endure such drivel should have to pay an additional fee.

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