Why I Don't Watch ESPN

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

I got the following press release from ESPN earlier in the week.

ESPN announced today three September game selections for Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell - Major League Baseball's exclusive national game of the week. The September slate is highlighted by several of MLB's biggest stars competing on baseball's biggest stage, including David Ortiz, Yasiel Puig, Bryce Harper and Robinson Cano.

Upcoming Sunday Night Baseball schedule:

There's just so much wrong here, from my point of view. I pretty much lost any interest when they mentioned The Puig: how, exactly, do you become one of "MLB's biggest stars" after a whole sixty games? Oh, I forgot: incessant media hype telling us that he's one of MLB's biggest stars. Self-fulfilling prophecy, there. But how can I resist such a tempting array of match-ups! Five games, which will surely provide a broad picture of the national game, covering the entire country and its teams. Oops, my mistake. There's three Red Sox games. Three featuring New York teams. Two Dodger games.

If you do the math, one-eighth of the teams get 80% of the coverage. Seven of the ten franchises are located directly on the Atlantic seaboard - what was that about East Coast bias? And if you're located anywhere between the two coasts (you know, that whole "from sea to shining sea" bit of the nation) your sole representative for the "national game of the week" on the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports" is the Cincinnati Reds. And while I don't normally feel sympathy for AL fans, all five spots for your league are given to the Red Sox and Yankees, even though there are currently seven other AL teams with better records than the latter. None of them will be seen this month.

ESPN's relevance on a personal level has been sharply diminished since the arrival of the MLB Network. While far from perfect, the latter does a far better job of spreading its coverage across the entire nation, and also doesn't waste time on other sports of no interest to me. Because, seriously, outside of programs with "Baseball" in the title, your chances of finding the sport on the network seem slight. Even when the season is in full flow, programs like Sportscenter seem preoccupied with the NFL and NBA, relegating baseball to an occasional mention. Then again, I'm a baseball fan, not a "sports fan," and two guys yelling at each other isn't my idea of entertainment.

That maybe why I am left almost entirely unstirred by the prospect of Fox Sports 1: another national sports network that I won't watch, but whose escalating cost will continue to be added onto my cable bill. I can see why the networks have such a lure for advertisers, because they are virtually the last bastion of commercials: I can't recall the last time I deliberately watched a non-sports TV program "live", sitting through adverts: all my other viewing is either on Netflix, from similar (ahem!) sources, or off DVR, where the breaks are whizzed through. But if I don't watch the D-backs live, I don't watch them at all. Which is stations pay such a premium for these events.

But if their opening weekend is anything to go by, Fox Sports 1 will be troubling my remote control about as much as ESPN, i.e. not very much. Today consists of college football, NASCAR and UFC. While tomorrow really pushes the boat out, with a slate of MotoGP, NASCAR and UFC. I'm somewhat underwhelmed by the variety on offer, shall we say. I might tune in on Monday, for Fox Soccer Daily - which, contrary to its name, appears to be screening only on Monday and Thursdays - even though I have a kneejerk desire to boycott anything which doesn't call it football. Because it's a game largely played with your foot and a ball. Unlike football handegg.

The odd thing is, an ESPN app recently landed on our Apple TV, and I actually quite like it because, as with the DVR, it gives you control over what you watch and when you want to watch it. I've been mining the more off-beat sports: there is, bizarrely, a ton of cricket on there, but I've also developed a fondness for lacrosse. Mind you, during the last Olympics, I was the one watching handball and fencing, though even I drew the line at water polo (too cruel on the horses, I'd say...). To me, that's the future of sports on TV in which I'm interested: personalized and broader, not the "one size fits all" approach of ESPN and FS1. I've a feeling the latter may struggle to find an audience.

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