Yesterday's news of a new scandal involving the Saints had a near monopoly on the sports media world. Part of that is because it is an interesting story. Another component is that this occurs in an already tumultuous time for the Saints who are reeling from Bounty Gate.
But a large part of why this story has such legs is the ESPN echo chamber effect. The story, which was ESPN's scoop, rolled out on Outside The Lines at 2PM ET/11 AM PT. Not peak television watching hours, but being midday Monday it was perfect time to disseminate a scoop that would obviously spread quickly on the web.
I was on the phone but saw the SportsCenter tweet about the revelation and scurried over to SportsCenter to get caught up after my call was done. SportsCenter rolled into NFL Live, then Around The Horn, PTI, and then again SportsCenter, all of which hammered the story over and over. That schedule of programming is essentially the best runway to launch a big story so that it's required viewing for those unable to watch ESPN during the day.
Not too long after the story broke a quick trip for lunch where the story was being bantered about on sports talk radio and back to the home office to watch Rome on CBS, confirmed that the story was THE story of the day. From the moment the story broke and up until now/the next big thing, ESPN's scoop became the number one thing people were talking about in the sports world.
However, there are some things about the story that irk me. For instance, the Saints had a better record on the road than at home those three years, there is no proof Loomis ever used the wired system, most believe it could have not led to a competitive advantage, and the fact that the Saints are denying it and this all stems from unconfirmed, unnamed sources.
All that said, the story merits a good amount of attention and commentary but it occurs to me what if this story broke elsewhere and not in the mid weekday echo chamber that ESPN has built up over the years?
I thought Yahoo's story on Miami earlier this year was a MUCH bigger story that ESPN failed to really cover adequately. In fact MGoblog has some great screenshots pointing out that even many hours after the story broke, ESPN only had a link on their front-page opposed to being featured on every other sports portal.
This isn't another drumbeat to bang on ESPN for doing something wrong, but rather just noting the fact that when ESPN has something exclusive and impactful, they can tee it up to roll-out for maximum exposure unlike other media companies. Yahoo, who most believe to be best in class in terms of investigative reporting in sports, just doesn't have the platforms and personalities to inflate the story for maximum exposure.
Sporting News, SI, NBC, CBS, Deadspin, Fox, etc, don't have the arsenal to really trumpet good investigative work where it can commandeer the 24 hour sports media cycle. Sure that stuff gets out there and the smart/savvy fans definitely get up to speed on what their scandal du jour is, but in terms of trickling down to the masses of average sports fans, those media companies rarely get deep penetration into that segment.
Within hours, the story was overkill for me. Reported multiple times over and bantered about by the usual talking heads, I was totally over it. There just wasn't enough evidence for this to dominate the headlines like it did yesterday. If the listening device was such an advantage, why did the Saints get rid of it and never bring it back? Obviously flipping away to another channel offered some salvation but it definitely got me thinking about the lower ceiling of exposure other media outlets can achieve in their investigative reporting.
When there is a big story that an ESPN competitor breaks, ESPN can snub it, downplay it, or cover it in a way where they highlight their follow up reporting and not the original story. Essentially if you're a competitor, to hit an investigative home run in terms of exposure (not industry credibility/props), you really need things to line up right. It's almost like the Price Is Right game Plinko, where you have no idea how big of a payoff you'll get as it randomly bounces around heading towards its final destination.
For ESPN, the investigative resources, the distribution and promotion platforms, and the debating talking heads to comment on a big story are all available in house. It's actually quite impressive to see the well oiled machine work as it sets the sports media world in fire with a story to me that wasn't fully baked. All that said, I wish going forward ESPN would bring home big time scoops as ESPN has been a bit lackluster in terms of bringing big stories to light.
Perhaps yesterday's success and a public seemingly clamoring for scandal will motivate ESPN to become a bit more ambitious on this front going forward. I think now more then ever there are major stories waiting to be uncovered as America's obsession with sports and the dollars going into sports have never been greater. Finding these stories and reporting them properly, all while not imploding the business relationships, access, and revenue that basically fund the investigative abilities of all of sports media companies is quite a task, but now more then ever it seems that the public is thirsty for this type of content. If only there was a Agent Scully and Mulder that could be a renegade unit breaking all the rules within sports media.