by: Chris Meinecke
Programming in televised sports has forever been molded into specialized channels. This may not be much of a realization to some or most of you, but it’s much easier to understand if you rip the blankets off of what some networks are trying to pull. When I say some networks I mean ESPN.
There is nothing new in me voicing that if you take sports at face value there is no reason to shuck them aside. That doesn’t mean that you’ll want to or even should watch all of it. My face value of the WNBA is extremely low. I don’t view it as a highly entertaining product. There is a niche that the league brings, that is all well and good, but for most when it is compared to the four major leagues in America it may not be chair gripping action. The NBA however is a different animal. Sure the “Association” has morphed significantly in the last fifteen to twenty years. You can see it if you look back to some of the shorter short wearing days of the mid 90’s. Now every team has four or five uniforms that get more rack space over anything else for merchandising purposes. If you take the NBA as the proverbial “doinkball” that it is – running travels and low percentage shooting – and realize that some of the soul jarring competitive nature of the game during the Jordan era is long gone, THEN you can take it at face value and enjoy it.
Why is this explanation important or even necessary? Take a look around your digital dial while I explain.
Many specialty channels have sprouted in the modern viewing age of sports. The NFL Network, where together THEY make football, and yes that’s what their egocentric thought is, was established in 2003. NHL Network 2007, MLB Network 2009, NBA TV all the way back to 1999. Even the FOX Soccer Channel which went away officially in 2013 has what is now an ultra premium channel in FOX Soccer Plus (strike while the iron is hot I guess). Channels like FOX Sports 1 & 2, CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network all got into the game over the last several years. Hell, FOX Sports 1 went so far as to compare themselves to ESPN on many levels without actually saying it out loud or in a press release. What’s important is that all of these channels serve enough of an audience that it keeps them on the air, in line with competition, and relevant to the overall media tidal wave that includes radio, online publications, and even us here at the BLFC blog and FCSRadio.
Next on the platter is the mother-ship. Since their inception in 1979 ESPN has evolved over and again. How can you not in 35+ years of broadcasting? What has come of their existence is the constant gleam of starry eyes over sports glistening super-stars like Lebron James and Tiger Woods. I’m not speaking from opinion, it’s a fact, all I ask is that you yourself not be blind to it. The proof is in the programming…
… the website programming.
That’s right. If you haven’t stumbled across any broadcast of SportsCenter from Bristol to Los Angeles, all you have to do is jump over to espn.go.com. Of the eleven stories that are listed in the right column, seven of them regard something to do with the NBA.
Can one fault ESPN for what they’re doing? Not at all. The NBA has a huge pool of fans. NBA TV does its damnedest to cover the league. The Hardwood Classics are welcomed for someone nostalgic, but it’s not all-encompassing. TNT plays an important role having the broadcast privilege of double-headers on Thursday nights and digging in a foothold for almost three decades. Even with the TNT product, it’s still sub-par when it comes to the NBA and its coverage. They’re too interested in airing badly scripted shows like Rizzoli & Isles and poorly acted reruns of Bones to be too concerned about improving their NBA product, one that even Charles Barkley says “sucks” on the Tonight Show [Watch here at the 30:21 mark IF you can sit through a couple of commercials you can’t skip and see how whiny Chuck is, kind of like you whining about not being able to skip commercials].
Don’t hate on ESPN for being NBA-centric. If star polishing isn’t your thing, I totally get that, it isn’t mine either. In fact ESPN has helped me resent Lebron and Tiger thanks to their over indulged coverage. That’s not fair to Lebron or Tiger, they didn’t exactly ask for that from that monolith of a company. Don’t hate on ESPN either for the good things they do still do. Their Fantasy Football software is set up and run extremely well in my opinion, Outside the Lines still does great investigative reporting, SportsCenter still has a small romantic space in my heart, and having the ability to look at a major sports event calendar well into the future is appreciated in case I’d like to look at the NBA, NHL, and NCAA schedules for the month of March all in one place on the Sports Calendar section of the ESPN Playbook page.
Take ESPN at face value. It’s the NBA Network. For as much as they’d love to tell and sell you that they’re well versed in the world of sports and being The Worldwide Leader in Sports, that simply is no longer true. While I can’t earmark a birth date for this like I did earlier in the article, welcome, NBA Network, you’ve been long-awaited at 1301 on my digital dial (even though I still won’t turn you on much).