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Old 08-04-2004, 09:07 PM   #1
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Default [Sports Central Newsletter] #115 - The MTV-ization of ESPN

The Sports Central Newsletter
August 2004 - Issue #115

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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|

- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "The MTV-ization of ESPN"
- Editor's Pick: "Three Cities, Three Teams"
- Shots From the Lip: "Tainted Olympics Leave a Nasty Taste"


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Hello folks,

There are so many things to discuss that I am going to be hard-pressed to keep this opening relatively succinct. The big news, of course, is the new site, both in terms of look and behind-the-scenes. It's faster, more simplified, and allows us to post more content for our readers. Have a look, and visit daily for new columns: https://www.sports-central.org.

The second big news is the return of a contest at Sports Central. With our exclusive tickets broker, ShowMeTickets.com, we are giving away not one, but two prizes. Take our quick survey and enter your name and e-mail in our form, and you're entered for a chance to win a $100 gift certificate to ShowMeTickets. You can use the prize towards tickets to any sports or concert event of your choice on ShowMeTicket's site. The second-place winner will receive a $50 gift certificate. Winners will be chosen randomly, and you can enter once a day. The contest page is at: https://www.sports-central.org/featu...et_contest.php

Lastly, I want to encourage you to support this issue's sponsors. First, Arrow Fantasy Sports (http://www.arrowfantasysports.com) is an excellent destination as fantasy football season nears and you need resources and tools to draft your team. Our second sponsor is Legendz Sports (http://www.legendzsports.com), a respected and established sportsbook who is generously offering readers discounts for playing. Give them a shot!

Until next time,

- Marc James
mailto:[email protected]


|-- THE O-FILES -- |

"The MTV-ization of ESPN"

By Brad Oremland

For years, it was happening slowly. But now, it's progressing at an alarming pace, and fans are starting to take notice and express their alarm. ESPN is becoming MTV.

It's harder than ever to find actual sports on the sports network that started it all. It's easy to find Disney-influenced profiles, ESPN's coverage of itself, and famous people with no easily identifiable connection to sports. Meanwhile, baseball games and tennis finals get shoved to the Deuce, or skipped altogether.

In today's corporate world, it's all about branding, and ESPN remains an undeniable success in that respect. It's gotten to where people at the watercooler are talking about ESPN itself, not just the sports events it shows.

During this slow summer, ESPN's apparent reluctance to focus on sports instead of personalities has final started to become news. Salon sports columnist King Kaufman has been all over it. San Jose Mercury-News columnist Tim Kawakami has initiated a one-man boycott because of the growing gap between what he calls "good ESPN" (i.e. Outside the Lines) and "bad ESPN" (anything with Max Kellerman).

You can't help but notice it, and nowhere is it more evident than during the crown gem of ESPN: SportsCenter. When was the last time the Top-10 didn't include something like a rooster-crowing competition or toe wrestling? Those used to be occasional -- stress, occasional -- breaks in all the serious stuff on a slow day. Now, a slow day has three of those "non-sport" Top-10 moments. Toe wrestling made the Top-10 twice during the last week of July.

Then there's the Hot Seat: why are people like Ben Stiller and Donald Trump on SportsCenter? If those guys are guests on Cold Pizza, that's one thing. If we're supposed to believe that Stiller counts as sports programming because of "Dodgeball," that's another.

This column has been in the works for over a month, but during the last week of July, ESPN was at its worst. SportsCenter was on 76 times (11 per day, nearly half of ESPN's programming). I like SportsCenter, but isn't that a little excessive? It's also worth mentioning that about 10 minutes of each show were devoted to music. Most of us don't tune into ESPN expecting to hear a live performance by Alanis Morissette, or athletes mangling the Star-Spangled Banner and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." And if the network really wants to show things like that, maybe a one-hour "Music and Sports" special on ESPN2 would do the trick instead of slipping it into SportsCenter.

Complaining about how often SportsCenter was on is silly, though, compared with what else was on ESPN during the last week of July. Something called Streetball -- I think it's like the NBA with more trash-talk and less talent -- was on ESPN 12 times (and ESPN2 for another hour and a half). ESPN showed a combined three hours of "Stump the Schwab" and "Around the Horn," plus seven hours of poker (which is almost impossible to categorize as "sport") and two and a half hours of fishing.

This wasn't because of a shortage of actual sports, though. During the same week, ESPN2 broadcast 27˝ hours of tennis -- including Lindsay Davenport's victory over Serena Williams in the final of the JP Morgan Chase Open -- the 2004 Cooperstown induction ceremonies, two boxing matches, six hours of MLB games, two hours of the WNBA, and two showings of Outside the Lines. None of that was good enough for ESPN?

What makes Kawakami's boycott article resonate is his distinction between "good ESPN" and "bad ESPN." In the past, sports fans could at least choose which programs to watch and which to avoid. Over the last few years, though, and especially in recent months, "bad ESPN" has infiltrated previously 'good' shows: SportsCenter anchors who think the show is about them, not the sports they cover; panel members and other 'experts' who shout, make deliberately controversial statements, or are blatantly biased in favor of certain people or teams; logos and catchphrases that block part of the action.

Obviously, ESPN can't show every sporting event that happens. But it can be better, and instead, it's getting worse. I watched SportsCenter almost every day last summer, and I never saw Alanis Morissette or toe wrestling or Donald Trump. The people in charge have apparently made a conscious choice to devote less coverage to sports and more to pop culture. It's getting hard to tell ESPN from MTV, no matter what program you tune into. That's a loss for all sports fans.


Brad welcomes your feedback: mailto:[email protected]?subject=O-Files
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)


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There have been 16 new articles posted on Sports Central in the last week. Check them all out at: https://www.sports-central.org. The Editor's Pick is:

"Three Cities, Three Candidates"
By Vincent Musco

New York, Boston, and Baltimore. George W. Bush, John Kerry, and Ralph Nader. How does the power structure in the AL East mimic the presidential election? SC's Vincent Musco takes a look at the striking similarities. Read on.




"Tainted Olympics Leave a Nasty Taste"

By Mike Round

There are some sporting events that, quite frankly, we could all do without. Mike Tyson fights and the Olympic Games come firmly into that category. In a week that saw the morally and financially bankrupt Mike Tyson make yet another "comeback," a major bribery scandal is set to hit the bidding for the 2012 Olympic Games. It's time for the public to send a message to the Olympics by turning off their 62-inch plasma screens this summer unless it can get its house in order.

I grew up fascinated by the Olympics as a kid. The first Olympics I watched as a small boy, the 1968 games in Mexico City, was full of drama and history, from Bob Beaman's monstrous world-record in the long-jump to the Black Panther protests, and had viewers riveted to their monochrome sets all over the world. Growing up in Europe, with it's all-consuming love of football, or soccer to North Americans, any sporting event that took the headlines away from soccer, even temporarily, must be big.

The 1968 Olympics, the first real mass-televised games, drew huge viewing figures around the world, but particularly in North America, where television ownership was way above everywhere else in the world. It also helped that Mexico City is in the same (or similar) time zone as the United States.

But that frenzied, high-voltage, politically-charged Olympiad is where the rot set in for the Olympic Games. Those brave black athletes that refused to honor the U.S. National Anthem in protest at racial segregation and inequality in their homeland completely hijacked the Mexico Olympics. With accompanying student riots in Mexico City, every malcontent in the world saw the Olympics as the ultimate platform in which to air their grievances.

By 1972, in Munich, the world had changed. The Middle East turmoil was dominating the front pages all over the world and, predictably in hindsight, it dominated the 1972 Olympic Games. Eleven Israeli athletes were massacred by the Palestinian Black September terrorists. The tone was set for future Olympic Games -- no longer were the games a festival of athletic genius. For political activists, terrorists, and governments alike, the games were a stage to be exploited for political gain.

In keeping with the new politicized Olympics, African nations boycotted the 1976 event in Montreal. The United States government used the 1980 Moscow games to protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and forced their athletes to withdraw en-masse. The Soviet bloc followed suit in Los Angeles in 1984. By now, the Olympic Games had been reduced to a farce by political self-interest and governmental interference.

Even if the Olympics could have reclaimed its Corinthian spirit, a new threat emerged in the form of performance-enhancing drugs. Anabolic steroids had been around on the athletic scene for a while by 1988 and the Seoul Olympics. The Soviet Bloc nations, led by the GDR (German Democratic Republic, or East Germany to you and me), had long cultivated a huge cottage industry that chemically enhanced its athletes to super-human heights, particularly in women's athletics.

The GDR, with its tiny population and moderate resources, achieved spectacular athletic results. The sporting authorities generally ignored mutterings about drug use in athletics as records were being broken on an almost daily basis. But Seoul 1988 and one man in particular -- Canada's Ben Johnson -- exploded the complacency about drug use in athletics.

For around 24 hours, the 1988 Olympic Games' 100 meters final was one of the greatest sporting events in history. In retrospect, even allowing for Johnson's positive drug test and the controversy around how drug-free Carl Lewis actually was, that 100 meters final was a monumental sporting occasion. Johnson had taunted Lewis throughout the heats, cruising effortlessly through to the final, using his devastating start to unsettle his long striding, slow-out-the-blocks rival. Lewis was clearly rattled and it showed in the final itself, as Johnson rocketed from the blocks to set a world record, at a then unheard of 9.79 seconds.

Ben Johnson was a 24-hour hero to those of us who despised the preening, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou Carl Lewis. Of course, he subsequently failed his drug test and never recovered his reputation. Neither did his sport. Athletics, and the Olympic Games, died on that sultry night in Seoul.

Amazingly, the Olympic Games are still courted by the networks. Viewing figures are patchy, yet this year’s renewal in Athens will generate $2 billion in revenue from television, almost half of it from the United States. Given that the 1976 games in Montreal raised $20 million and left the city in permanent debt, that's quite a return. Atlanta in 1996 showed the world that it was possible to make money from hosting an Olympics and cities now fight to the death to host the festival.

2012 is now up for grabs and cities like Paris, Madrid, New York, and London are in the running. Yet the seedy way the host city is decided, by an IOC Committee allowing bidders to schmooze their representatives for years on end, has brought further discredit on the Olympics.

This week, the BBC, the giant British media empire, is set to reveal on its Panorama program (the British equivalent of 60 minutes) that the London bidding group has been approached by an agent of one of the 124-strong IOC Committee suggesting that votes are available at the right price. It's like the Salt Lake City fiasco never happened. If there turns out to be some truth in this claim, the Olympics could never recover.

So what is the future for the Olympic Games?

Firstly, given that the United States and its television networks provide 50% of the money generated by the games, it would seem only fair that at least one in every three Olympics are held in America. The Sydney games in 2000 were a commercial and sporting success, yet due to the time difference, hardly anyone in North America watched the events live. 2012 should be awarded to New York and a commitment made to hold a minimum of one in three Olympics in the United States, unless the rest of the world wants to up its financial commitment to the level of NBC and others.

Secondly, the ludicrous jingoism and faux-patriotism of the modern Olympics should be halted. Athletics isn't war or a victory of capitalism over socialism, or the developed world over the myriad of poor nations. It's humans against humans and as such, national flags and regalia have no place. No more endless laps of "honor" bedecked in the Stars and Stripes, no more national anthems at victory ceremonies and no more medal tables. Athletics is an individual sport -- nationality and geopolitics has no place.

Finally, the perennial question of performance-enhancing drugs. The Olympics, and athletics in particular, can go one of two ways. Either stamp out drug use completely or throw in the towel and let them take what they like. The present system is a cop-out, whereby drug cheats are inconsistently punished with a variety of sentences, ranging from two-year to life bans.

Recent developments have been encouraging and there are signs that the sport is getting ahead of the cheats, but by issuing the same ban to a skier who uses a nasal decongestant to relieve a cold and a sprinter who knowingly ingests EPO, the sport opens itself to ridicule.

Unless athletics can convince the sporting public it's relatively drug-free, it will forever be relegated to a minority interest and the Olympics will suffer. The NFL isn't drug free and neither is baseball, but it is perceived to be sufficiently so. Athletics isn't.


Mike welcomes your feedback: mailto:[email protected]?subject=SFTL
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)


(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 09/05/04.)

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