Le Anne Schreiber’s final ombudsman column for ESPN.com (linked here) after two years of trying to act as the viewer’s representative on the inside of the Bristol, Conn., offices tries “to find the taproot of discontent from which the whole blooming variety of complaints emerge” from the 30,000 pieces of email she has received over the last 24 months.
She broke it down this way:
“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.”
You know who you are, Berman. Van Pelt. Berman …
“The root of all the ‘too much’ mail I received — as in too much Manny, T.O. and A-Rod; too much Yankees, Red Sox, Cowboys and Patriots; too much Joba, Kobe and Brady (both Tom and Quinn); too much Hansbrough, Tebow and Duke; and way too much Favre.
“Much of the ‘too much’ mail I received came from fans who wanted to see their own favorite teams and players get a fairer share of coverage. 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.’ ”
“When a sports media empire repeatedly turns fans off some of sports’ most talented players, both established and emerging, something is wrong. And yet the message from fans that I have found hardest to impress upon ESPN’s executives and talent is this: The predictable day-after-day dominance on ESPN of certain marquee teams and players is making a lot of fans both heartsick and cynical.
“Why does ESPN resist the message? Because they see strong counterevidence in what matters most: event telecast ratings.”
== Implosion is near
“In a previous column, I wrote: ‘The endlessly swirling synergy of events programming continuously reinforced by pre- and post-event shows, by preseason and postseason shows, by news shows that cover those events and by opinion shows that derive their topics from those events is a business model both extremely effective and extremely transparent.’
I would like to revise that statement by deleting ‘extremely effective.’
We now know that any business model based on the assumption the rich can get endlessly richer is bound to implode.”
== In summation: Wise up
“So what’s the one last message I want to leave ESPN? I guess it would have to be: Don’t be so predictable. Subtext: Stop trying to make the publicity-rich ever richer. Spread the wealth around before fans turn on ESPN the way investors have turned on bankers. …
As someone who ran a newspaper sports section in the pre-ESPN era, I can tell you that the average fan is incomparably more informed about every aspect of what makes a sport tick than was once imaginable.
It is too late for ESPN to dial it back or dumb it down, too late to satisfy the savvy core audience it created with the thin gruel of sound bites, shouting heads and the celebrations of the obvious. If it wants to sustain its success, ESPN has no choice but to keep getting smarter. Its audience demands it.”