April 23, 2014

Dr. Medialove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the People Inside My TV

Hey, buddy.

You’re bummed. You don’t want to hear any more from the talking heads on the tee-vee about how LeBron will leave or the Cavs are doomed or Eric Mangini is a soul-less monster or the Midwest is made for flying over top of but not stopping in unless you want deep fried food in a basket. You hear these things from any number of sources and it gets to you. I mean, it really, really gets to you.

And I’ll freely admit: it sucks to have to endure.

But guess what? It doesn’t have to suck. Let me tell you a story about sports media and how to chill. You might not think I can connect these things, but I’d like to try.

Up front: I realize that everything coming from said “Leader of World-wides” over the past day and a half has been pure drivel. 60% of yesterday’s Sportscenter was dedicated to talking in some way, shape, or form about LeBron. That’s absurd. As Scott so eloquently said in our email exchanges Thursday night, Rachel Nichols crowbarred in as many questions about free agency as possible at the post-game pressers.

LeBron’s free agency is a story that has been largely driven by the media, and ESPN isn’t the only one to blame here. However, it’s pretty clear that LeBron’s free agency is the new A-Rod steroids “scandal”, Britfarr faux-tirement, Barry Bonds home-run ball branding, Michael Phelps bong rip… well, you get the point. It’s going to be (and has already been) a saturation of forced stories far beyond what any decent human being (regardless of their sports team of interest) should endure. For those who actually hope LeBron stays, it’s even worse. So what can we realistically do about it?

A few weeks ago I came to the realization that quite honestly there’s nothing to get worked up about. Do “sports news organizations” (I really don’t know what that means but it seems to fit the bill) such as ESPN have agendas? Certainly they cater to their user/fanbase. ESPN is located in Connecticut (and also broadcasts from LA, DC, and Brett Favre’s lawn) – and there’s certainly a perceivable East Coast bias that’s present (one that is certainly more targeted towards New England than it is to say, Florida).

If we’re going to be honest with each other, ESPN is a news organization – same as CNN or Fox News or MSNBC. The difference is that ESPN is just catering to the sports fan rather than news junkies or political folks or people who like Larry King’s suspenders.

So if ESPN is indeed a news organization what do we need to stop and think about? News organizations need content. With the 24-hour news cycle, multiple stations and the increasingly instantaneous proliferation of information, there’s an ever-growing need for content to fill the “dead space”, whether it be on the television or on the web.

Filling that dead space is something that ESPN is very, very good at. If you look at their TV slate, there is always something on. Whether or not it’s interesting or important or relevant is debatable, but there’s always something on. More to the point, they changed their Sportscenter production to go live in the morning in order to more easily adapt to “breaking news”. They even have “Sportsnation” – a show based around fan votes. Sometimes, they’ll post questions via Twitter that many find to be inflammatory or incredibly biased. On the web they’ve incorporated (to varying levels of success) content networks such as the TrueHoop Network, the NFL Divisional and NCAA Conference Networks, providing fans of every team with daily updates to their favorite teams.

More to the point, many of these shows and blogs are quite good. In these times, content (and pageviews) reign supreme to many.* Look at Deadspin and their drive to get people signed up for their newsletter by promising an athlete phone number. Or Gizmodo’s five-day rollout of the lost prototype iPhone. Or, moving away from Gawker Media, look at Frank Isola’s recent baiting of Cleveland fans on Twitter and print (really, don’t look – you’ll just get angry. Just trust me on this one), and New York Magazine’s dedicated issue to LeBron. Alternatively, just look at the fact that Bleacher Report is a thing and it’ll become quite apparent.

The point is that in order to capitalize on your time and interest, outlets like ESPN are working hard to grab your attention and not venture far from it. So when you’re busy saying “wow, I really hate that Skip Bayless”, you’re thinking about ESPN on some level. And guess what? When you do that, they’ve accomplished their goal. It’s brilliant marketing, but it’s nothing new. To give credit where it’s due, they are really, really good at it.

Want a little more evidence that ESPN is really good at what they do? They are the model upon which Politico has built their coverage of the world inside the Beltway. And that model when applied to politics has changed things here in DC as well – for better or for worse.

Beyond ESPN, there are thousands of content providers out there. Many of them have a particular voice. You’re all here reading this because either 1) you share certain qualities with us and enjoy being part of the community, or 2) I suckered you into clicking the weblink that I sent your way. Either way, we do have a choice in where we get our content, especially on the web.

I’m also aware that there aren’t many other television sports news outlets. But guess what? Just because they’re on the TV doesn’t mean what they’re speaking is gospel. Granted, when you hear Talking Head X repeat things over the course of a few years, maybe at some level you start to believe them. I’m no mathematico (and I’m certainly not a professional athlete), but I’m guessing that when it all comes down to making the decision on where to go as a free agent, the things that ESPN say factor < 0.1% to most every athlete. They may matter to agents or handlers a bit, but to the athlete I doubt ESPN has much of a say in things.

And if it doesn’t matter to them, why should it matter to us? We’re fans. We dig our teams and our athletes. We want everyone else to enjoy our teams in the way that we do. So what if some hipster you meet at a bar is all like “hey brah, I saw on ESPN that LeBron is gonna bolt”? I mean really – who cares? Sometimes people disagree. We don’t have to agree on everything. That’s just fine.

But on the simplest level, at the very core of it all, we all know that sports are for fun. That’s it. It’s a beautifully simple concept – and maybe we discount the idea because of the simplicity. Sports are for fun. Think about how much fun we had as kids throwing the ball around, or kicking the ball around, or bouncing the ball around. It was a heck of a lot of fun wasn’t it?

So let’s have fun with our teams. I’m sure we can all do this. Don’t let some non-chill bros inside the talky-box take the fun away from it. I came to this realization a few weeks ago. It’s certainly helped me calm down. I hope that it can do the same for you.

* I am well-aware of the potential for hypocrisy here. As a growing blog we certainly take interest in the statistics regarding our pageviews. We also have ads on the site, and put the revenue generated from the clickthroughs go to maintain the site’s webspace and provide prize packs, etc. for the community.

This being said, I can promise you that I have never written an article solely to generate pageviews in order to increase revenue. Certainly I’ve written satirical pieces that people haven’t liked, or made posts that I (and maybe three other people) find funny. But I don’t write drivel simply to write drivel and piss people off. I can only speak with absolute certainty for myself, but knowing the other guys that write for this site as I do, I can say that no one goes out of their way to write something inflammatory or strictly for traffic.

  • Mark

    Nicely said Denny. When you write that you and the other guys do not write inflammatory pieces to generate traffic, well, it is noticed and appreciated. It is one of the main reasons I come here everyday. I have no desire to read through tons of crap designed just to get me riled up. No thank you. Our 3 teams do that well enough on their own.

    You are right that ESPN and other can have some informative, relevant content but it is fairly obvious what they are trying to do most of the time. I find it pretty easy to stay away and feel better for it. That will be my approach to the Summer of LeBron. Until something concete happens, count me out. I have no energy to sift through the crap.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com Cleveland Frowns

    I think most people around here understand that these news orgs need content. The problem is that they’re so quick to go for the cheap and easy instead of using their access and vast resources to dig deeper.

    It goes deeper than just presenting a view that folks disagree with. It’s the way that view is presented and at what expense.

    I agree with what I take to be the main thrust here, which is that it should be easy enough for us to tune it out. That doesn’t make it all any less regressive; any less of a waste.

  • Alex

    ESPN has somewhat started down the course of MTV, meaning less sporting events (music videos) and more BS (1and10, around the horn, sportsnation, etc) Somewhat of an exaggerated comparison but it rings true enough. I do like PTI even tho kornhiser is a complete nyc homer

  • http://benjamincox.blogspot.com Ben

    I stop watching ESPN whenever something like this occurs (T.O. doing situps, Brett Favre doing Favre things, Bonds, A-Roid, etc). I can’t boycott them completely (I read their site every day) but I certainly won’t subject myself to it.

    It kills me when my friends go off on ESPN hammering a particular story. Don’t watch. Serenity now and all that.

    Skip Bayless solely exists to piss you off.

  • buckeyeCIC

    Great piece Denny and have never looked back since cutting ties with ESPN almost a year ago. Keep up the great work!

  • Dirtywax

    I have a much simpler solution: Turn the idiot box off. Ever since the Tribe choked in ’07, I have disconnected my cable after the Cavs’ playoff runs. It’s summertime and beautiful outside. It’s amazing some of the things you can accomplish without that thing on.

    I also refuse to visit any of the major dot coms until the Lebron drama is over. All the Lebron drama that he himself created, but I digress…

  • Alex

    The utter laziness is what kills me. The half hour of the NFL show, during the season, occasionally has some gems – they’ll actually analyze plays and such, but that leaves 23.5 hours of nonsense most of the time. And really, that’s what they should be doing – use former players and coaches to give us insight into what actually happened during the games, unique views/knowledge that we can’t get from any dipstick with a mike/camera. Those people who actually provide valuable insight shouldn’t be relegated to a half hour every day or two while the rest is spent on sensationalist drivel.

    My favorite response to the silliness of ESPN came from Aaron Rodgers, of all people, this week. He called out Todd McShay about football knowledge on Twitter – it’s pretty easy to find and would actually be both informative and entertaining. If I know an analyst actually has knowledge and a foundation for analysis, maybe I’ll listen to what they say. That’s why TNT’s analysis is far better than anything NBA-related that the worldwide leader does, that’s why MLBTV is far better, and so on. At this point I tune to ESPN and its children for actual sporting events only. And it’s great.

  • http://www.brian23.com Brian

    I’m so oddly attracted to Rachel Nichols man it drives me crazy.

  • Wheel

    ESPN is a business in a ratings-driven industry. Ad sales are driven by ratings and demographics. Younger demos(18-29) are the audience advertisers seek because they spend the most on what advertisers sell (beer, Gatorade, etc.). The only agenda ESPN has is to make as much money as possible – plain and simple. Lebrongate is a story they can exploit to the fullest for the next 6 weeks. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

  • Alex

    rachel nichols is pretty darn hot, it’s easy to overlook how annoying she is

  • Turk

    “So what if some hipster you meet at a bar is all like ‘hey brah, I saw on ESPN that LeBron is gonna bolt’?”

    Punch them in the face. Because lord knows, there are plenty of these d-bags in DC.

  • The Other Tim

    Rachel Nichols? Really?

  • Matt#2

    “It was a heck of a lot of fun wasn’t it?”
    That line is as close to Buttermaker as it got.

    Good read.

    I never paid any attention to ESPN until they ate the sports that the “networks” used to cover and what I used to see on Channel 43.

  • subadai

    “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops, uh, depending on the breaks.”

    “a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff”

    There. Some “Dr. Strangelove” quotes. Now this thread is complete.

  • ckNikka

    nice take… I have not cared about ESPN in a long time and really get my news and info on Cleveland sports from those of you who host the various blog sites… and I admitt it I read the PD on line… Pluto is still good… Grossi is well Grossi…