ESPN has a monopoly on sports coverage as far as I'm concerned. Fox Sports Net and VS really don't do much, and channels like the MLB Network are doing a great job, but are a niche market. Unfortunately, the World Wide Leader has really been a disappointment in the last few years, and things don't seem to be getting better. Honestly, I feel like they're complacent, and they feel like, in their minds, they can do no wrong. Between endless coverage on select teams to hosting the abortion of a program in Lebron's "The Decision," I've found myself watching less and less ESPN and devoting most of my time to blogs and online coverage. They offer me nothing unique or useful. So what can be done?
As promised, here's my proposed solution and a discussion on the problems facing the sports fan when it comes to sports coverage today...ESPN has a model of success. I'll give them that. Focus on the big clubs, stay general and use gimmicks. I get it. People like the Red Sox and the Cowboys. But the problem is, what about the real sports fan? What about the people who want more? There's only so much a fan can take of Brett Favre coverage, talking about Wade Phillips, focusing on every little Yankees detail and talking about the "Big Three." There are spectacular stories in sports every day, and athletes from teams doing amazing things--falling on deaf ears when it comes to the WWL.
The parallel can be made to MTV in some respects. "Music Television" saw a way to capitalize on popularity and develop a formula that got them the most viewers at the least effort for them. And the more people bitched about the lack of music, the more reality shows popped up. And yet, people keep tuning in. ESPN is the same way. There's no competition. There's no incentive for them to change. So if Carlos Gonzalez is having a career year, or a guy like Brandon Roy puts the work in night-in and night-out, it doesn't matter. They're not big market draws. What's the point in covering them when we can discuss the plights of the Dallas Cowboys?
And quietly, sports bloggers have taken over on the internet. At first, why did that matter? Television and the internet are separate entities. With the advent of streaming video online and tvs (and video game systems) that are integrating online content with television content, the lines are blurred. It's no secret ESPN's site is bogged down, convoluted and a mess. But now they're getting scooped left and right by the people they've spent a significant time slamming in the past--the bloggers.
They've made their pithy efforts, developing the TrueHoop Network as an example and using their main writers as newsbreakers on Twitter, but with all their resources, you'd expect blanket, insightful coverage. But some of the best writing and best info out there is online.
ESPN needs a rival. They need a reason to try harder. So why wouldn't it be possible to take the best of the internet, which fans are devouring, and combine it with true sports coverage? I don't see it being all that difficult. There are great podcasts and online video shows already out there. Develop these, add more shows, content, highlights and make this into a network. Turn this into the combination of insight, analysis, breaking news and coverage that we eat up every day as we follow our Twitter and RSS feeds.
It needs money. I realize that. And ESPN would do everything in their power to topple this network before it even takes off. They're the end-all, be-all as it stands, and they don't want that to change. But in a way, this is a win-win for sports fans. If the station takes off, ESPN will have to step their game up. They'll realize that their out-of-touch analysts and joke "personalities" like that clown Colin Cowherd are more ENTERTAINMENT (see: Fox News) than actual news. They'll focus on mid-market teams. They'll profile teams that get no publicity. They'll be a real sports network.
I know it's hard to achieve. And I know there are a lot of people who defend ESPN, but any entity holding such a stranglehold on coverage (not counting live events like NBA on TNT or "Football Night In America" on NBC) is dangerous and problematic.