ESPN Ombudsman

Ombudsman Calls ESPN’s “The Decision” The Wrong One

Sports media followers have been waiting for ESPN Ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer to chime in on the WWL’s handling of “The Decision”, the made for TV special of the announcement of where LeBron James will play basketball this fall.

The wait is over.  Read his column here.  Ohlmeyer is highly critical of those in charge in Bristol.  Here are some of the highlights…

On ESPN’s claim that it did not “pay” for the LeBron story:

But if you let the subject sell an hour’s worth of inventory, then the program needs to be an hour — and that’s an editorial acquiescence, not an editorial decision.

No matter how convoluted the intellectual gymnastics, ESPN “paid” for the exclusive access to a news story. For the network, there is quantifiable revenue associated with the Thursday 9-10 p.m. programming hour. That revenue was forgone, yielded in exchange for the exclusive.

On ESPN’s transparency problem during the telecast:

As to transparency, ESPN failed miserably where it mattered most. Although there was no attempt to hide the Gray involvement or the inventory arrangement leading up to the broadcast, the viewers were not explicitly told at the most appropriate moments that conflicts existed. Before turning from the Bristol set to Gray, ESPN should have advised viewers that Gray had been selected by James’ team to do the interview.

At the top of the show, or leading into the first commercial break, the network had an obligation to make viewers clearly aware that the spots they would be watching had been sold by James, with the money targeted for charity. ESPN’s disclosure requirement is to the viewers of that very show, not simply to other media (through promotional interviews or news releases) or to viewers of other programs. ESPN should never have traded inventory for access or allowed a subject to select his inquisitor, and if that meant losing the exclusive, so be it.

On the ESPN hype machine leading up and following “The Decision”:

As the hours wore on, it was impossible not to ponder: Did the news value of James’ decision really merit such prolonged speculation, dissection, explanation, argumentation and analysis? Competent television producers can create infinite hours out of whole cloth, and that was certainly the case here. But those “SportsCenter” fans looking for other sports coverage? Too bad. An average hour of the network’s showcase contains 45 minutes of programming to cover the entire day in the world of sports. These prized minutes normally are doled out meticulously, attempting to satisfy the interests of a broad-based sports audience at the same time as servicing the fanatic. As “The Decision” approached, “SportsCenter” made an abrupt adjustment.

On Wednesday night’s 6 and 11 p.m. editions of “SportsCenter,” James’ quest corralled almost a quarter of the show. On Thursday at 11 a.m., it monopolized almost half. And as the 6 p.m. show rolled around, it was “All LeBron, All The Time.” In the two-hour “SportsCenter” that followed “The Decision,” the non-NBA sports fan was virtually ignored, as were the 12 baseball games scheduled for that night, the World Cup semifinals and everything else in sports — including golfer Paul Goydos’ phenomenal 59.

On the perception of ESPN going forward:

What’s the long-term impact of “The Decision”? Clearly, the hype and excess surrounding James’ choice was not ESPN’s crime alone. Many of the same media participants that helped turn it into a quasi-national obsession were among some of the program’s sternest critics. Many in Bristol tend to slough off media criticism, minimizing it because they feel ESPN wears an enormous bull’s-eye — the network is Goliath to an army of Davids who love to play Whac-A-Mole at ESPN’s expense. Maybe that’s the case and maybe not, but there are certainly times when criticism is justified — and this was one of them.

Spot on Don.

ESPN Ombudsman Talks Leach/James, Etc.

I know I haven’t written much since the beginning of the year.  So take this as a make-up.

ESPN Ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer has written his latest column…on the WWL’s handling of the Mike Leach/Craig James affair at Texas Tech, plus a few other items.  And it’s tidy 5400 words!  Ugh.  Enjoy!

ESPN Names Ohlmeyer New Ombudsman

It has been a little over three months since Le Anne Schreiber stepped down as ESPN’s Ombudsman.

Today ESPN has announced that legendary television executive Don Ohlmeyer will fill the Ombudsman’s post beginning in August.  Ohlmeyer has signed an 18-month contract with the WWL.  He will write monthly at ESPN.com.

Ohlmeyer is best known for his success at both ABC and NBC Sports.  He ended his tenure at NBC by serving as the President at NBC West Coast until his retirement in 1999.

“Few people on the planet could bring to the role of ESPN ombudsman more credentials, intelligence, a track record of success and the fearlessness to speak his mind than Don Ohlmeyer,” said John A. Walsh, ESPN executive vice president and executive editor. “He is a noted maverick in the industry with a vast understanding of media, and we look forward to his contributions.”

I, too, look forward to Ohlmeyer’s assessment of the WWL.

An Ombudsman Curtain Call

ESPN Ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber has posted her final column for the WWL.

In it she encapsulates the feelings of fans who wrote to her over her two year stint as ombudsman, focusing on their frustration with the excess that has become ESPN.  And as has been the case since her inaugural column, Schreiber again does a fantastic job in understanding and relating those frustrations to ESPN and her readers.

Schreiber points out that ESPN can learn to change some of their habits if they just go back to how they got to be the dominant sports media force they’ve become…

…I think the chances are pretty good. If you step back and take the long view, a perspective advanced years forces on me, you will realize ESPN did not become the phenomenal success it is by underestimating the intelligence of the sports fan

…It was ESPN that peeled back the layers for fans — revealing how players, teams, coaching staffs, front offices, leagues and conferences, their marketers and commissioners, agents and recruiters mesh. Knowledge once considered arcane is now elementary education for ESPN’s audience.

It is too late for ESPN to dial it back or dumb it down, too late to satisfy the savvy core audience it created with the thin gruel of sound bites, shouting heads and the celebrations of the obvious. If it wants to sustain its success, ESPN has no choice but to keep getting smarter. Its audience demands it.

We interviewed Le Anne last month.  You can find the podcast here.  ESPN has yet to announce a successor for Schreiber.  Let’s hope he or she builds upon the work Schreiber was able to on behalf of the fans of ESPN.