For a network that brands itself as the “world wide leader,” the good folks at ESPN have become complacent. That’s not to say that they still aren’t in the lead because it is going to take a long time for anyone to take a shot at the throne. I’m just saying the gap is closing.
The landscape of sports journalism as we know it is changing. There was a time in recent history when there was only one network for sports. Everything from highlights to analysis to reporting came from one news source that everyone used as a reference. Now there are dozens of sport-based television networks. Fox has sunk resources into expanding their branch. NBC upped their game. Then of course, there is the creation of sport specific networks for the four major sports. NFL and MLB networks specifically have gained a strong following. Even at the college ranks we now have conference specific outlets like SEC and Big Ten networks. The point is that the market is a lot more crowded than it used to be and the big guns are finding it hard to adjust.
Not only is there a saturation in content but it has become a lot more competitive to get top levels personalities. The top ratings-getters are leaving the network at an alarming rate but why? There are a few glaring reasons. Think of the executives at the world wide leader as an arrogant boyfriend. Their whole business plan rests on the premise of, “Go ahead, Leave me! you’ll never find anyone better.” And just like in real life, that kind of egoism is going to hurt you.
Now think of these new media companies as the bad boys on the block that any overprotective boyfriend should be worried about. Not only are the contracts lucrative but you get to be the main event, not just a footnote in a much larger organization. Additionally, ESPN is infamous for censoring the hell out of its employees. If you’re going to hire a guy for his ability to give interesting opinions, then let him give his opinion! But the execs in Bristol are too power hungry for that. It is either their way or get the boot (they like to use the boot).
Even with all of these signs, I have still been skeptical of any dropping off with one of the most powerful television networks on this planet. They do still own the rights to the College Football Playoff as well rights to broadcast major moments in all major sports. But that’s on the broadcasting side. When you look on the sports talk side, the outlook is more bleak.
I didn’t truly believe it until I saw this today…
What is ESPN doing? They are the Harvard of broadcasting, they don’t do these sorts of things ever. Gags like making the future number one pick bench press your twerp employee are reserved for much less sophisticated employees. But after thinking about it, it all made sense. These guys are clearly conscious of their newfound competition. More importantly, they are making an effort to mimic them.
The world wide leader sees someone in the rear-view and they’re approaching fast. Only time will tell if they can get caught up to.