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Saturday, June 11, 2005

ESPN and the End of Civilization?

It's unlikely that ESPN would cover it, but they might be a participant in it. Check out this post from Dave Sez regarding ESPN's coverage in general and their marketing practices in particular.

As always, I have a few thoughts.

First, I don't like the marketing practices of magazines in general. They tend to send you renewal reminders very quickly after you re-subscribed or subscribed, and they hound you mercilessly to re-up. That type of practice isn't limited to ESPN the Magazine, and, in fact, it's a large group of magazines that hounds you.

Second, the particular marketing practice alluded to is rather low and goes beyond what many magazines do. I take the solicitations for what they are and don't actually open them, whether they're cloaked in a Western Union envelope, a pseud FedEx envelope or have some type of urgent exhortation on the envelope. Spending (too much) time on solicitations isn't advisable for anyone.

Third, everyone might want to consider how much time they spend reading magazines (as opposed to, say, websites or blogs). Magazines can clutter your house and give you the feeling that you're behind on life in general (in other words, they can add stress). I have piles of certain magazines that I think I should be reading but don't get to. As a result, as much as it pains me, I won't renew. It's not because the writing isn't good (in these particular magazines, it is very good), but because I only read them occasionally. Also, in that vein, I'm wasting money and can put it to good use.

Fourth, as for ESPN, I find the magazine to be lacking definition. True, it's targeted at a younger age group than Sports Illustrated, if for no other reason than people over forty have to strain to read the print fonts that they use. Some of the articles have scooped SI, and the layout seems to emphasize style over substance. There's a lot of sizzle in this magazine, but when you strip it out, you don't have a magazine that is too unlike SI. Call me a traditionalist, but SI remains the better publication.

Fifth, as to ESPN's anchors and its presentation, I honestly don't think that there anchors are any more or less smart alecs than say ten years ago. When ESPN started, the anchors were more serious, but once you got Chris Berman and Keith Olbermann, they created a new style that others have tried to build upon (depending on how you look at it). I don't necessarily object to the style, except that sometimes the stress on anchors to out-metaphor one another is palpable. For example, when they had the first "Dream Job", the judges dissed a guy who used a phrase "A-rama-hama-ham-dan" or something like that. They flat-out didn't like it, but I didn't understand why. Stuart Scott has his catch phrases, and others have theirs, so I just didn't get it. Perhaps the judges thought that that particular candidate was hitting too close to home with what's wrong with ESPN (in addition to the highlights). Whether you like the anchors and their style, of course, is another story, and there will be those who contend that ESPN's fascination with the dunk in basketball has ruined a generation of American hoopsters, many of whom grow up not knowing how to pass or shoot the ball very well, although they can sky. I also am concerned that ESPN sometimes forgets the line between journalism and coverage (that is, are they the story or covering the story), but I am thankful that they realized that they could help solve the BCS problem (i.e., the lack of a national title game in college football and the machinations that the BCS goes through to try to convince the nation that it's process is sound) by yanking their poll from the BCS calculations. It was a good, if overdue, move.

Lastly, I wished they stuck to a core of sports and did fewer things well. I like to fish and don't do it as often as I'd like, and those shows have their place, but I'm not sure about poker, about rodeos, about strong-man competitions. Perhaps it's because they need filler, and perhaps it's because their own productions have fallen somewhat flat (I'm thinking about "Season on the Brink" and "Junction Boys", neither of which will endure in anyone's memory for too long). I don't mind an occasional game of women's softball (NCAA Tournament, of course), and the lacrosse coverage, when it happens, is fine. I find the tennis coverage uninspiring (its ratings are probably as good as those that Jon McEnroe's talk show enjoyed on CNBC -- zero), which means that when it's on I click over to something else. In short, they need to strengthen their core and build from there. It's when ESPN moves to the periphery that they get into trouble.

And, yes, if I got the type of marketing piece that Dave talked about, I'd be a bit annoyed. It's over the top, but I think we should remember all of the fun that ESPN has given us too, and forgive some overeager marketing executive for a blunder. By the same token, the blogosphere should, as Dave has done admirably, keep up the pressure on the mainstream media outlets for excellence. ESPN shouldn't get drunk on its own success; rather, ESPN should use that success as a motivator to excel to greater heights.

Which means jettison the cheesy marketing pieces.


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