You know who’s turning 30 on Monday? ESPN.
There’s a big anniversary Sportscenter planned for Sunday night, but I wonder how else ESPN is celebrating. Maybe one of it’s oldest friends started organizing a big get-together, then at the last minute backed out because some dude he barely knew was having a bachelor party. That’s been known to happen.
Anyway, 30 years seems like a good time to take stock of the people that make ESPN the World Wide Leader and their impact on society as a whole.Â To do that, we turn to the Best. Neil Best, sports media columnist at Newsday and author of the fantastic Watchdog Blog on Newsday.com
SCP: Recently, ESPN presented the sports “Mount Rushmore” for each of the 50 states, by having viewers select the four most prominent sports figures in each state. Let’s turn that around a bit. If you had the name the ESPN Mount Rushmore, who are the four most important personalities in the network’s 30 year history?
NB: Chris Berman, Dick Vitale, Bob Ley, Dan Patrick
SCP: It seems like ESPN really took off in the mid-90’s, when Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann hosted the early Sportscenter (The Big Show) and Craig Kilborn and Brett Haber hosted the late edition (The Feel Good.) In my mind, that’s when it switched from highlight show to cultural touchstone. In hindsight, was that a good thing or a bad thing for the sports landscape?
NB: I don’t know if it was good or bad, but it was inevitable. You can go only so far in delivering dry sports information because after a while it all sounds the same, so as the audience got more sophisticated and had more access to the basics, there was no choice but to spice up the information with some entertainment value and pop culture cachet.
SCP: Can you put the impact of Bill Simmons into some perspective? It seems like he’s the only major ESPN player who’s success has been limited to just one platform, instead of being spread across the internet, tv, radio, etc.
NB: Well, Simmons has dabbled in other platforms, but certainly he mostly is known as the new media king. I think he came along at just the right time and with just the right type of fresh approach to become a pioneer of Web-based sportswriting that reached a wide audience. He is a bridge between traditional sportswriting and mom’s-basement blogging in that he can write from a fan’s perspective even when he does have some access to the people he writes about.
SCP: What sport does ESPN cover best? Which one do they cover worst? And should viewers be bothered that coverage of certain sports always seems to pick up when the network acquires broadcast rights to those sports (like Nascar, soccer, Arena football, etc?)
NB: Best: college football/basketball. Worst: hockey. As for the last question, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a company leaning toward promoting the properties it owns, as long as it is not so extreme as to be a disservice to the customers – which in this case are the viewers.
SCP: September 7th is also the 35th anniversary of the first TV sideline reporter (and my birthday.) Is it possibly the most significant date in the history of broadcast sports coverage?
NB: It might be significant because of your arrival, but not because of the sideline reporter innovation. Really, it’s a frivolous, mostly unnecessary ad-on, as much as it’s nice to see Erin Andrews at a college football game.