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ESPN’s NFL Coverage Will Focus More on Xs and Os Than Off-Field Stories

One of the criticisms of ESPN’s coverage of the NFL is that they focus on too many off-the-field issues. Don’t know what we’re talking about? Just watch this video from 2008.

I don’t entirely blame ESPN for this issue. Sometimes television networks like ESPN need talking points to fill their air time. They do that by venturing into off-field stories, discussing trade rumors, or running anonymously-sourced stories. That sort of coverage can become annoying for traditional sports fans, but it’s a somewhat understandable trade-off for having comprehensive coverage. Luckily for us ESPN has realized that football sells itself and their coverage this year may try to reflect that.

Speaking with SI’s media columnist Richard Deitsch, ESPN senior coordinating producer for the NFL, Seth Markman, says the plan is to focus more on Xs and Os. “The last few years, the one area I wanted to focus on was getting a little bit back on the field,” said Markman. “Some of it was the last few years there were so many off-the-field stories that it took us in a lot of different directions. When I looked at the shows, I found that we could do a better job of getting people ready for their games. If that means being a little more Xs and Os this year, then I think we can do that.”

This will definitely be a welcomed change for most sports fans. I understand why ESPN has had a problem with this in the past. Other sports are different from football — there isn’t an inherent interest in day-to-day NBA, MLB, NHL or college basketball games — so off-field story lines are needed to heighten interest. With the NFL, people love it for what it is. Many fans are educated about their teams and follow the sport closely. B.S. stories aren’t needed. If the Worldwide Leader sticks to Markman’s words, all viewers will benefit.

Dana White Blasts ESPN, Says They Always Hated UFC

Dana White is trying to build an empire. To this point, he has done a pretty fantastic job.  White insists the UFC will eventually go mainstream, and the new deal he signed with Fox is a great starting point for making good on that guarantee.  Not surprisingly, the UFC negotiated with a number of major networks before coming to an agreement with Fox.  One of those networks was, of course, ESPN.

If you asked White you would swear ESPN had no intention of ever hooking up with the leader in mixed martial arts.  In fact, White can’t stand ESPN and insists they never liked the UFC to begin with.

“@nickmontiel4ufc ESPN always hated us and they hate us more now that we are on FOX,” White wrote on Twitter. “They cancelled my int next week for UFC Rio (expletive) ESPN.”

On the contrary, MMA Payout Writer Jose Mendoza says that the UFC and ESPN came extremely close to a deal before Dana White settled on Fox.

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ESPN the Book Likely to Become a Movie

The ESPN book ESPN: Those Guys Have All The Fun was a big success following its release in May. It rose to 256 on Amazon’s bestseller rankings and was second in their TV and sports broadcasting categories. The book became so popular that movie studios reportedly are fighting over its film rights.

According to Deadline.com, 20th century FOX is closing a deal for the screen rights to the book. Deadline reports “The studio will develop a feature about the formation of the 24-hour sports network. The pic will be produced by Michael De Luca, Trigger Street’s Dana Brunetti and Julie Yorn.”

Deadline writer Mike Fleming adds that “The book created a stir in the film community when ICM began shopping it in recent weeks. I’m told there is interest from scribes and directors, and the studio and producers will start right away looking for someone to figure out the movie.”

Film producers reportedly envision the movie being similar to The Social Network for its aspects of back-stabbing and ego-driven characters. We could easily see that happening. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all scripts or film rights that are purchased end up being created; nothing really came of the Colin Cowherd sitcom.

Still, people love intra-office drama and gossip, and the book was loaded with it. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this turned into a movie. At least it should be more appealing to the sports crowd than Moneyball, which is only about a decade too late.

Thanks to Joey Kaufman for the tip

ESPN Joins MLB in Ripping Frank McCourt’s Handling of the Dodgers

Before we go any further I’d like to make one thing clear: Frank McCourt is the worst thing to happen to the Dodgers in the past 10 years and I can’t wait for him to lose the team. He’s a horrible person who seriously lacks any moral standard, and he never deserved to own the team. The best thing McCourt could do for the franchise is give up his legal fight and allow MLB to completely seize the team.

Even though I can’t wait for the Dodgers to have new owners, it was quite surprising to see all the anti-McCourt propaganda ESPN ran on Sunday Night Baseball. Prior to the Dodgers and Angels game Sunday, Tim Kurkjian did an excellent piece on the history of the Dodgers. His point was that the franchise and fans deserve much better than the treatment they’ve received from McCourt. Then during the game, ESPN ran the following (commercial? documentary?) video that had an identical theme:

For anyone who’s watched Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, it was quite shocking to hear them editorialize during the middle of a game. As I said before, I fully support their message and would love to see the face of the franchise, Vin Scully, deliver a similar message. But their McCourt bashing didn’t stop there — it continued during the inning.

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ESPN Personalities Who Criticize Texas Could get Replaced

Remember the blockbuster TV deal the University of Texas signed with ESPN? The Longhorn Network is set to go live in August after ESPN agreed to pay them around $300 million for the next 20 years. Well apparently Texas is in such high demand ESPN signed a sweetheart deal just to lock them up. So much so that they’ve conceded the ability to criticize the school in their contract.

The Austin American-Statesman via Ben Maller did some digging and discovered this alarming aspect of the contract:

“In the event that UT reasonably determines that any on-air talent does not reflect the quality and reputation desired by UT for the Network based on inappropriate statements made or actions taken by such talent and so notifies ESPN, ESPN will cause such talent to be promptly replaced (and will in any event no longer allow them on air following such notice).”

The first rule of ESPN and Texas’ broadcasting arrangement is you do not talk badly about the Longhorns. The second rule of ESPN and Texas’ broadcasting arrangement is you do not talk badly about the Longhorns. The third rule of ESPN and Texas’ broadcasting arrangement is you do not talk badly about the Longhorns.

Does anyone else see a problem here? Is it alarming to anyone else that one of the largest and most important sports networks in the country won’t be allowed to say anything controversial about one of the biggest football programs around? I understand objectivity is tough to achieve, but there’s a difference between having natural biases and outright cheerleading. I’m afraid we’re veering into dangerous ground here.

Video: Lil Wayne Shown Swearing Before ESPN First Take Appearance

Rapper Lil Wayne has been seen court-side at NBA games a lot lately, to the point where he complained about Dwyane Wade and LeBron James stiffing him. There are plenty of YouTube videos of Wayne celebrating and apparently yelling at opposing players during games, but Friday morning I got my first glimpse of exactly what Wayne is yelling during those games. The rapper was about to appear on ESPN First Take and the network teased the appearance like this:

How did ESPN let this get on air? Someone has to be responsible for screening the video and it’s not like it’s unclear as to what he is saying. It seems very clear to me what Wayne is saying; “p***y a** n***a.” I’m not sure who he’s yelling at, but while Wayne might have some street cred, I’m fairly confident he wouldn’t fair too well in a fist fight with about 95% of NBA players. ESPN is a subsidiary of Disney and I’m sure that’s not the type of content Disney would endorse. I’m not personally offended by it, but I’m sure someone will be. In any case, I can’t imagine someone not losing their job over this.

Jon Miller and Joe Morgan to be Replaced by Dan Schulman, Orel Hershiser on ESPN

Jon Miller is one of my favorite broadcasters around. Joe Morgan is my least. It’s unfortunate that the latter all but certainly cost the former his job. Jimmy Traina shared with us the New York Times report that ESPN is breaking up its Sunday Night Baseball team after 20 years. They say Orel Hershiser, who joined Miller and Morgan as part of a three-man team this past season, will serve as the analyst to Dan Schulman.

The move from ESPN was long overdue. It got to the point with Morgan where I couldn’t listen to the man speak without thinking there was something wrong or erroneous about what he was saying. That happens when you tell lie, after lie, after lie on national television and the listening audience calls you out each time. Joe Morgan has a big name but zero credibility. Not that having zero credibility has not stopped networks from hiring people before, but it should be a huge factor in putting someone in front of millions.

The good news is we don’t have to endure Morgan regaling us with falsehoods any longer. Also, Jon Miller may continue doing Sunday night play-by-play for ESPN Radio, so he might not be entirely missed. Lastly, Schulman is an excellent play-by-play man and Hershiser provides great commentary, so I’m looking forward to hearing them on TV in the future. Good move by ESPN, it was about time and they did a great job picking the replacement team.