ESPN’s Dubious Entree Into KBO Coverage

The sports scene in our Covid world continues to unfold in unpredictable ways. On one hand, it seems less and less likely that we will be able to have anything but a very strange and very diluted version of the sports we care about the most, as some states are perhaps playing it too cautiously (Oregon is banning mass gatherings through the end of September) and other states perhaps not playing it cautiously enough.

All the talk regarding the return of sports is about baseball right now, but it seems unlikely that there will be much of an opening for pro or college football to come back under easier circumstances, to say nothing of the NBA and NHL finishing out their seasons. Both the health and bureaucratic obstacles are too great.

On the other hand, sports are coming back — not in a torrent, but in a steady drip — worldwide. We no longer have to settle for esports (though I've grown quite fond of Rocket League — more on that in another column), Belarusian and Tajik soccer, and table tennis out the wazoo.

For one, UFC has made it clear that they will hold events, come hell, high water, or no spectators, as they did this past Saturday and will again twice over the next few days, all from a fan-free arena in Jacksonville. For another, golf has a nice skins match for charity this week (there's also a sort of pro-am next week featuring Tiger, Phil, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady, and I couldn't care less).

Additionally, leagues with much higher cache than that of Central Asian soccer have returned. The Bundesliga will return this weekend, by far and away the most high-level sports league to resume play since the pandemic began. Not to be overlooked, however, is South Korea returning with both their soccer league (not anywhere near the talent of the top European leagues, but far superior to Belarus, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan) and their baseball league.

The Korean baseball league, the KBO, is surely one of the top five professional baseball leagues in the world if not the top three, trailing only the U.S. and Japan. And, ESPN has seen fit to bring us games six days a week, both live in the dead of night and on repeat during the day.

But don't be too quick to thank ESPN for bringing us the KBO. First, ESPN tried to acquire the rights for free, before the KBO told ESPN to, in the words of Drew Magary, "suck a used Covid mask."

Magary's column is well worth reading and his complaints about ESPN's coverage of the KBO are similar to mine. It seems they just want pats on the back for bringing us live sports at all, and don't give two shits about actually giving us a product worth watching. What I have in mind is not encumbered by the hindrances of covering the games remotely.

You know how during blowouts (any sport), the commentators will just start schmoozing about whatever? The ESPN broadcast teams do that for these KBO games regardless of the scoreline or any happenings on the field.

Their commentary amounts two hours of, "man, isn't this crazy?" and one hour of interviews of MLB folks during play.

I get it, ESPN. Your market research over and over again shows that casual fans is where you make your money, and the casual fan likes pomp and circumstance far more than x's and o's. Us hardcore sports fans should just be grateful that you give us our own space, with things like college water polo, on ESPN3.

But has it occurred to you that it's probably not the casual fan who is making a point to tune into baseball at 1 AM or 5 AM Eastern? It seems clear that you are under the impression that your viewers really care that they get the game, but they don't care about the game.

That's nuts. Magary writes, "If ESPN wanted to make Korean or Taiwanese baseball a big fucking deal, they could." I'm not even asking for that much. I'm just asking that during the game, the announcing team talks about the goddamn game. That's all.

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