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Posted: April 26, 2017

Opinion: The ESPN we used to enjoy is dead and never coming back

(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Icon Sportswire/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

By Marcus Hartman, Dayton Daily News

The worst thing that ever happened to ESPN was the success of PTI.

>> READ MORE at Marcus Hartman’s “Cus Words Blog

Shortly after Pardon The Interruption debuted in October 2001, the network set about trying to replicate it on every other show on the network.

That has proven to be a disaster because nobody in Bristol gets the debate isn’t what makes that show great, it’s the debaters.

Tony Kornheiser and Michal Wilbon, not just colleagues but friends who genuinely seem to love arguing with each other about things they’ve actually put some thought into, have a unique rapport that can’t be copied easily.

And yet more than 15 years later, the people running ESPN continue to try in vain.

Collateral damage in this war against people who want good content has been mounting for years, and Wednesday was one of the worst as the company parted ways with a bunch of people who actually do good work and produce things worth consuming (mostly for their website) in an effort to offset financial losses wrought by spending more than they can afford on the rights to broadcast live sports.

If you wondered if the product on ESPN was ever going to get better, the answer is now clear.

For the most part, it appears ESPN kept the carnival barkers while cutting many of the people who actually gather the information people like Stephen A. Smith hyperventilate about.

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There’s a theory out there that mixing in too many liberal political messages has hurt the network’s bottom line, but I’m not sure I buy that. Of course, I don’t watch it enough to know just how liberal those messages are. It could be true. It’s probably at least a small factor.

I can’t imagine skewing in one direction politically helps, and I believe the whole stick to sports thing is actually good advice most of the time.

Not that everyone isn’t entitled to their opinion and encouraged to share it whenever they want, but there are a lot of sports fans who really don’t want political commentary in their sports.

And that’s a very fair request, at least 99 percent of the time. There are plenty of sources for news, politics and whatever else, but ESPN has the market cornered on live sports. So feel free to be obstinate, but don’t be surprised if there are consequences. 

Responding to consumer demand is important in any business, but ESPN hasn’t made a habit of that lately.

As often as they take a former athlete off the street and throw him or her into the studio – or worse yet, onto a broadcast – with no experience and much to learn about how to actually express themselves in an informative and entertaining manner, it’s clear ESPN doesn’t care about the quality of what it puts out there.

So at this point I assume if ESPN is having ratings problems (they are), it’s mostly because their product sucks.

I assume they’re cutting people from their website because it doesn’t generate much revenue in the grand scheme of things. The people who have run the network so poorly probably also figure whatever money the web does bring in can probably be maintained mostly by posting viral clips from their terrible sports opinion shows anyway.

Maybe I’m making a lot of assumptions for someone who gave up on ESPN long ago, but actually watching ESPN didn’t used to be essential in appreciating it.

I grew up without cable, but I knew all about SportsCenter.

There was no Twitter to make the catchphrases of Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott, et al, go viral as they might today, but ESPN became a cultural icon in the 1990s anyway.

That was, oddly enough, because they presented sports in a fun and entertaining way. 

A lot of the good stuff was still there when I finally got cable in 2001 (dorm livin’, baby!), but it didn’t last long.

Within about three years, I quit watching for the most part (aside from live events and PTI), and nothing since has indicated I’m missing much. Certainly social media gives few endorsements, and neither have I found the few snippets I catch here and there appealing.

That’s why I keep coming to the same conclusion.

ESPN is dead and never coming back. Today is just one of the sadder reminders. 


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