Those of you who have followed what I’ve written here at SMJ know that I’ve defended ESPN for its decisions in programming its channels as it sees fit. I also have little problem with how the WWL sells segments on Sports Center to the highest bidder. They are in the business to make money.
So it should be no surprise that I had no problem with how ESPN landed the exclusive to air the choice of where LeBron James will play basketball beginning this fall. It is a journalistic coup. Any other media outlet would have jumped at the chance to get that exclusive. Critics should stop bashing ESPN for doing its job in getting the jump on a big story.
With that said, how ESPN handled its coverage of “The Decision” seems to lead to the conclusion that there is a disconnect between the news and publicity departments in Bristol.
Once it was announced it would provide exclusive coverage of LeBron’s announcement, it became apparent that the ESPN spin machine would take over nearly all programming of the network. From the special “LeBron” ticker, the lower third bug promoting “The Decision”at 9pm ET, to the nauseating domination the story carried on SportsCenter, all ESPN cared about was its coverage of the future of a highly talented Ohio state high school basketball champion. There could have been twin no hitters thrown in Major League Baseball and it still would have been relegated to the fifth biggest story at best.
I’m a firm believer that if you have an exclusive, the fact that you have it is publicity enough. There is no reason to bombard your viewers with endless promotion.
This episode also justifies my contention that six hours of live SportsCenters from 9am-3pm ET is a total waste of programming time. I have never been a fan of this move, and yesterday proved I was right.
Now to “The Decision” special itself. The “one hour” special turned out to be a one hour, 13 minutes special. It took ESPN 22 minutes to go to Jim Gray to get LeBron’s decision. Then Gray wasted all our time by asking whether LeBron bites his nails. Really?
The extended delay of LeBron’s decision reminds me of how mad I get here in the northeast when a snowstorm is forecast and the local newscast leads the show by saying, “A snowstorm is coming. Stay tuned to find out when it will start and how much snow we can expect.” 20 minutes later, we find out the storm will begin at 8am and dump a foot of snow. What a slap in the face to the viewer. Tell me what we need to know NOW and then follow with questions and analysis.
ESPN should be proud that it was able to get the LeBron exclusive. It should be embarrassed of how it handled its execution.