Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cracks in the Armor?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out ..."

Well, it may not be a million voices but a few recent incidents just might be the little piece of thread that starts the unravelling of a media giant.

The World Wide Leader in Sports, ESPN, has held the uncontested upperhand in cable sports broadcasting for much of the last decade. And after the merging of ABC and ESPN thru the corporate head of Disney, Inc., the powerhouse combo virtually rules sports media -- cable and broadcast -- or at least has the first right of refusal in most bidding wars. (FOX will dispute this, and they do own the rights to many primetime upper echelon sporting events, but the demise of the Fox SportsNet channel in such a major market as Chicago signals the white flag as far as cable sports news networking is concerned.)

And they aren't afraid to wield their power. How else would you explain the decision to not pick up a virtually untelevised Notre Dame football game this weekend? While they may have contractual obligations to other conferences (which can be subverted somehow through the use of one of it's minor stations such as ESPNU or ESPN Classic -- they've done it before), I have a hunch that in an indirect way ESPN is trying to show NBC that their precious exclusive broadcasting contract with the football team from South Bend isn't worth what NBC paid for it. It's a sort of backhanded, passive aggressive means of discounting Notre Dame in order to maybe make a run at their broadcasting rights once the original contract with NBC runs out. Everyone may not like it (Soxually Repressed for one), but we all, ESPN included, know what a financial windfall ND football really is.

But some of the little guys are lashing out.

First of all, the Holy Roman Empire of sports is embroiled in a lawsuit involving Harold Reynold and his firing. Today Deadspin linked to an article in the New York Daily News concerning Reynold's possibly career-sabotaging lawsuit and mentioned at the bottom of the post how such a thing would have seemed a silly notion only a few years ago. ESPN would have swept the noise under the rug, and Reynolds would have been a broadcasting pariah. But now, thanks mostly to Reynolds' unquenchable spirit and belief that he did nothing wrong, the water buffalo that is ESPN can't swish away with its tail the fly that is Harold Reynolds. If Reynolds wins, how many other wrongfully terminated or misappropiated employees will take this as a sign to pursue with renewed vigor a grudge they hold with ESPN? And while I'm not a huge fan of women broadcasting men's sports (I'm not sexist but there's just something incongruous about it), due to the sexual harrassment nature of the firing, a verdict in Reynolds' favor could have severe consequences for women coming forward at ESPN whether or not Reynolds was actually guilty of the charge. In addition if, in our politically correct culture, something as inoccuous as a hug can be misconstrued as sexual harrassment, the airwaves will die of any and all tones of gender humor for fear that someone will be called a miscreant. The lawsuit will send ESPN further down the road of crappy uncontroversial programming that now permeates the halls in Bristol, Connecticut.

Also posted today was a seeminly small Scout.com article (once again, hat tip to Deadspin) about how perennial BCS monkey wrench Boise State University told ESPN to go screw itself when the despot tried putting the screws to the small school. ESPN has repeatedly asked BSU to move its games to primetime weekday slots in order to tighten its hold on viewership during those days. They like to call it their Thursday Night Special or some other night special or some mish-mash to make them seem like the greatest game since the Cal/Standford Band game. Normally BSU was more than happy to oblige; their team could use the solo exposure so in the event they did run the table and remain undefeated through the regular season, voters wouldn't have as an excuse the fact that their games aren't televised. But this time ESPN asked too much when they tried to get BSU to move it's Thanksgiving weekend game to Friday night with only two and a half weeks notice. BSU said thanks but no thanks; asking all those students and families and other attendees to change flight plans, hotel reservations and family Thanksgiving dinner plans just to accomodate ESPN wasn't the right thing to do in BSU's eyes. Of course the king doesn't like being told no, and as such, threatened to pull the plug on broadcasting BSU's big game with San Jose State. BSU responded with a big, fat middle finger to the World Wide Leader and under general principle alone, I agree 100%.

Smaller problems have been surfacing over the recent the resignation of certain writers and on-air "talent". Jason Whitlock, a one time writer for ESPN.com's Page2, has already flogged in print certain writers such as Scoop Jackson and Bob Lupica at the expense of alientating himself. It hasn't happened. Whitlock is more liked and respected now than ever before. His candid words concerning the management at ESPN.com and The Sports Writers (a Sunday morning, half-hour gab-fest/ soapbox on ESPN) have many people whispering about the gestapo-like atmosphere surrounding the network. Bill Simmons at Page2 has repeatedly and ambiguously mentioned that the heads of state have put a muzzle on him concerning ESPN and on-air-talent related rants. (I can't wait for his memoires to be published concerning his time at Page2. It'll be the first decent thing he's written in a few years.) And when even the tool Woody Paige eventually cuts ties with ESPN, the shit is sure to fly faster outta his mouth than a Borat beheading at a socialite dinner in Birmingham.

The cracks are there, and maybe they've always been there. Maybe ESPN doesn't hold as much weight as they wish they did. The ESPN Mobile debacle reminded me a bit of MJ trying to run the Wizards; you just can't do everything. Maybe a little discord will help return the World Wide Leader to reporting sports the way it should be: with honesty, integrity and less fake ingenuity (read stupid NFL Primetime segments or puff pieces with preferred coachs). And remember: an ant alone will die, but an army of ants can move mountains. That army against ESPN is growing. Maybe they should be worried.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice! Great success!

(Awesome read, tremendous stuff! Thanks)

Tyler
Memphis, TN

8:43 AM, November 09, 2006  
Blogger Soxually Repressed said...

Dept. of Accuracy(I hope):I believe that ESPN was originally acquired by ABC's former parent company Capital Cities.

4:06 PM, November 09, 2006  

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