Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ESPN Is Desperately Trying To Eat The Sports World

Remember that awful 90's movie Empire Records? I'll refresh your memory: a bunch of kids save an independent record store from being taken over by a giant chain. You can substitute your personal favorite movie about local heroes sticking it to corporate America if you want.

That's in the movies, of course. In reality the Wal-Marts and Barnes & Nobles of the world are generally successful in wiping out local competition and whenever one of those stores moves into town, the local establishments have a fey aura about them.

You can add ESPN to that list of pathological conquerors as well. The sports broadcasting corporation already spans multiple channels and is indeed the "worldwide leader in sports". But that's clearly not going to be enough because ESPN has set it sights on the up and coming NFL Network.

Smart-assed announcer Rich Eisen left ESPN to anchor the fledgling NFL Network. The result has been pretty outstanding if you ask me. NFL Network has managed to expand from the NFL to college football as well and has produced some excellent shows like America's Game (which is a MUST see for any NFL fan.) The network has put together a great team to work with Eisen including reporter Adam Schefter, Rod Woodson, Marshall Faulk, Warren Sapp, and a bevy of hot female counterparts.

One of the shining moments for the NFL Network came early this year when Mike Shanahan was fired by the Denver Broncos. Shortly after the firing, ESPN's Chris Mortensen, who apparently puts being first ahead of being correct, announced to the sports world that Shanahan was about to become the next coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. People spoke of how this hiring made sense and how Shanahan wanted to coach the Chiefs so he could get back at the division rival Broncos. It was a wonderful storyline full of juicy goodness.

Too bad it wasn't true. And the NFL Network quickly refuted the claim because Adam Schefter used to work for a newspaper in Denver and has multiple local contacts. Once the truth came out, ESPN looked like idiots and the NFL Network scored a big win for it's credibility.

I'm guessing that incident has stuck with ESPN because Schefter has suddenly disappeared from the NFL Network despite still being under contract. Rumors abound that he wants tons of money and since the NFL Network can't afford his asking price, he's headed to ESPN.

Obviously Schefter is as much to blame for this as ESPN, but something tells me that ESPN will offer a huge sum to Schefter based on that one incident with Mike Shanahan. It makes sense: if you can't beat them, hire them away for gobs of money. Call it the New York Yankees business model.

It doesn't stop with Schefter though. The past year, the NFL Network hired Jon Gruden to scowl and do all of his Chucky things. Gruden was a hit with his intense talking points and constant unprovoked scowl.

Guess where he's heading? And apparently Gruden's move came as an unpleasant surprise to NFL Network. I believe the word used is "spurn".

Again, I know it takes two to tango, but I'm getting tired of ESPN hiring every ex-coach or athlete out there and slowly straining out the good from the bad. Emmitt Smith? Disasterfied. Steve Young? You can stay.

But ESPN is still not content just battling the NFL Network. The station is looking to take out your local radio station no matter where you live. I'm sure you've run across these ESPN commercials at some point:

Yes, ESPN has infinite more technology at its disposal and can scour the east coast looking for the best announcers the network can mold into it's own set of radio stormtroopers, but not everyone in Denver wants to hear about the New York Yankees. And that's all you'll hear about. If you live in Kansas, do you want to hear a big discussion about what's going on in Connecticut?

So if you live west of the Mason Dixon line, be wary of the big dog moving into your local radio neighborhood. Because if you aren't careful, you're going know more about New England teams than you'll know about the teams in your own backyard.

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