I’ve read a lot of complaints about ESPN recently. Most focus on what The Worldwide Leader should stop doing. Stop with the stupid “Who’s Now” fake bracket crap. Nobody cares if Adam Sandler thinks Tom Brady’s three Super Bowl rings are more impressive than Kobe Bryant’s three NBA titles. Stop pushing fringe leagues such as the AFL and MLS down our throats just because you show the games on your channel. Stop letting Joe Morgan talk.
Many of these points are valid. I happen to like the soccer coverage, but Joe Morgan really is terrible at his job. The network isn’t what it used to be. They seem to care more about promoting the ESPYs than providing comprehensive sports coverage.
Still, 70% of the TV I watch is ESPN. It hasn’t gotten bad enough to make me turn it off, but there are things a channel devoted to sports should be showing instead of the stuff they are now. Many of their so-called experts are obnoxious and their is no excuse for advertising an April Yankees-Red Sox games like it’s the second coming of Christ, but the real shame in how ESPN is conducting it’s operation are the things it’s leaving out. Here are five things ESPN should have more of in it’s its line up that would keep me hooked as a viewer:
1) Behind the scenes coverage
Watching baseball games as a kid, I’m not sure I ever understood the whole production was real. Games kind of happened magically. I never believed it was actually possible to bump into Ricky Henderson in the real world. That was until I saw the Reading Rainbow episode, “Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures With the Family Lazardo” when I was four years old. LaVar Burton hosted the show from the A’s spring training facility, and talked to Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire while they joked around during batting practice and took fungos. That was the first time I saw what happens behind the scenes in the pros, but unlike a magic trick, learning how it worked didn’t make it less amazing. It opened up a whole new way to be entertained by it.
Since then, I’ve been hooked on behind the scenes specials. I got HBO last month for the first time in my life, mostly so I could watch Hard Knocks, a reality show that followed the Kansas City Chiefs through training camp. I know the words ‘reality show’ can scare people off, so let me clarify. Hard Knocks isn’t so much a reality show as a weekly documentary about how a NFL team works. It has serious sports journalism, beautiful cinematography, and is quite informative and entertaining. Why isn’t ESPN producing more shows like this?
ESPN has the resources to make a Hard Knocks for every sports. The Chiefs are probably the pro franchise I have the most lukewarm feelings about - I don’t really like or hate them at all - but I’ve been clicking on every Chiefs related link I’ve seen since watching the show because I know a little bit about the players. ESPN could take a team struggling to build fan interest - like the Royals - and base a weekly program like this around them. Nobody would be able accuse the network of only caring about the Yankees and Red Sox, and it would probably be very entertaining. Make a Hard Ball for the MLB, Hardwood for the NBA, and a Hard Ice (I guess) for the NHL. Or just stick to football. I was disappointed to hear last week’s episode is the last one since the Chiefs close camp. I beg you ESPN, please steal this idea and continue it through the regular season.
2) Insane feats of athleticism.
I’m not talking about your generic slam dunk or home run highlights. Albert Pujols hitting a 450 ft. bomb is impressive, but I’ve seen that before. Why isn’t there a show that shows what Albert can really do? Let’s say the network replaced it’s ESPY promos with a mini-show called “Let’s See What Happens”. It would be a series of roughly 3-minute segments that would put athlete’s talents to good use, like finding out what would happen if Pujols swung at a baseball with an axe or a katana. Who can do more damage to an Astrovan in a minute: Joel Zumaya throwing fast balls, or Chris Pronger firing off slap shots? Can Michael Vick score a TD against 11 trained attack dogs? Viewers could e-mail suggestions of athletic tests they want to see. Who wouldn’t want to watch this?
I keep hearing reports saying how dead hockey is because the Stanley Cup Finals got worse ratings than the Westminster Dog show or something. Of course nobody watches the NHL anymore. Where are you supposed to watch it? Before the lockout, you could see games on ESPN and highlights and analysis on the network’s NHL 2Night. Now you’re lucky to see a 15 second clip on Sportcenter of your teams’ game. This article analyzes the catch-22 of ESPN not covering hockey because people don’t like hockey because ESPN doesn’t cover hockey.
4) Premier League
It’s great they’re showing MLS games these days, but why settle for the junior varsity game? Start us off with English soccer game highlights on Sportcenter, so the soccer haters can get used to it. Is anybody going to complain about replacing the Budweiser Hot Seat with diving header and bicycle kick footage? Once Americans get used to the weird team names and company logos on the jersey, we’ll be ready for a game once week. Just a game-a-week, that’s all I ask.
5) Erin Andrews
She’s gorgeous, which is reason enough to give her air time, but that’s not why ESPN needs more of her. Anybody can put a pretty lady on TV, however Andrews is one of the few legitimately informative sideline reporters out there. She actually managed to make an interview with a Little Leaguer more awkward than usual. During one of the semifinals games at the LLWS, she interviews the 2006 championship team, which was in the crowd cheering on another team from Georgia. All the boys were giving one word answers and had the usual OMG-I’m-talking-to-the-hottest-woman-I’ve-ever-seen-and-I’m -on-national-TV look on their face when Andrews broke the tension by asking one of them, “Remember when you cried with me last year? That was such a great moment!” The kid nodded sheepishly as his teammates giggled in the background. Few people will go the extra mile to humiliate a 13-year-old like that. Erin Andrews is a rare talent.