Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Spoonful Weighs a Ton

It's been light posting over here and that's going to continue for the short-term. I'm hopeful that I'll be putting up more dry, humourless, typo-laden content in ten days or so.

In the interim, here's something that's really worth a read for anyone that shares in interest in how the media cover sports: the last letter from the ESPN Ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber.

When I cast my mind back over two years of mail, searching for that taproot, the first word that came to mind was "arrogance." That wasn't the word most frequently used by fans, but accusations of arrogance were implicit in the many complaints I received about specific anchors who imposed their personalities on the news, announcers who elevated their own chatter over the game at hand, commentators who leapt to the absolute in a single shout, columnists who heaped scorn on minor sports or minor markets, and the relentless corporate "me, me, me" of multiplatform cross-promotion.
If arrogance were indeed the taproot, the message to ESPN from fans would be simple: "Get over yourselves, it's not all about you." And the solution would be as simple as ESPN asking the loudest and most self-smitten of its many personalities to tone it down.

Ms. Schreiber also nails one of my pet-peeves: announcers who put way too much emphasis on the so-called stars. Martin St. Louis has got so much slobber-laden coverage out of the last two Leafs -Lightning games you'd think he invented hockey, had a hat-trick both nights, cured a horribly debilitating disease and jump-started the economy. Meanwhile, over at the CBC, Jim Hughson strokes out when the Sedin's make a four foot pass.

More telling was the mail I received from fans of ESPN's favored few. "Favre was one of my favorite players in the NFL," wrote a fan from Kansas City. "Now I'm just sick of hearing about him." Although the killjoy effect can linger for years, it takes less than a season to engender. "Why don't you write about how ESPN's overcoverage is killing interest?" a fan from Seattle asked in January. "The latest example is [Davidson College basketball star] Stephen Curry, who was a joy to watch during the NCAA tournament last year, and now ESPN has already begun to wring every last drop of joy out of watching him."

Given that sports producers turn their shows over to the likes of Mike Milbury, Al Strachan and the latest fired executive, and given that PJ Stock, Nick Kypreos and Marc Crawford make their living in this field, I'm very doubtful that any of the trends in awful sportscasting will ever be addressed, much less go away. But it's nice to know thousands of sports fans and a single ombudsman can agree that the current set-up can and should change.


  1. Anonymous7:21 am

    Do any of the Canadian sports media provide an Ombudsman? or Ombudswoman?

  2. Anonymous9:54 am

    In her letter, she touches on the most important point, and the one that will ensure nothing every changes: ratings. So long as fans continue to watch the existing coverage, there is no impetus for the networks to change their delivery. While devoted fans tire of endless blabber about St. Louis or the other stars of the games, more casual fans are probably attracted to that very aspect. They need something to draw them into the game if the game itself isn't exciting enough, and, like it or not, sports stars are celebrities so they appeal to that portion of the population that fixates on the famous, and has no interest in anyone else.

  3. I noted this briefly on twitter, but is it any surprise the best part of ESPN is being replaced? Schreiber has continually churned out excellent articles yet she's buried at the bottom of ESPN's main page, sometimes not even appearing at all. So while her point remains valid and to the point (and by extension, as does yours), it's unfortunate that the number of people who even knows she exists probably remains on the low end. Thanks for at least showing her some attention and love.