SportsCenter ain't what it used to be. Whether it be nostalgia fondly reminiscing about a golden age or longing to relive our youths, many of us sports fans who are young adults wish SportsCenter recaptured its old identity. Although it shows flashes of its old self with a solid group of anchors like Scott Van Pelt, Jay Harris, John Buccigross, Neil Everett, Stan Verrett, Lindsay Czarniak, Chris McKendry, etc. it's the content of the show that can be jaw-droppingly bad. Like, Kardashian level bad. Whether it be the vapid mindlessness of the live daytime editions or the nighttime editions that ignore half of MLB while airing tired vignettes about superstar players we've seen a million times, the truth is SportsCenter ain't what it used to be.
But in 2013... can it be? Should it be? Do we even really want it to be? The numbers tell a different story than what conventional wisdom may dictate.
Remember ESPNEWS and Highlight Express? This was a show that removed all the elements of SportsCenter that may have caused your blood pressure to rise in a frantic search for the remote. No analysts. No long, drawn out postgame coverage. No incessant celebritizing of sports. Just the highlights with no-nonsense anchors. Perfect, right? One problem.
It was one of the few programs in television to draw a 0.0 rating and ESPN canceled it due to low ratings. John Ourand reports in SBJ a mere 53,000 viewers for Highlight Express between 11-12 PM ET. If all we want is highlights, why is Highlight Express in the dustbin of televised sports? If SportsCenter is in an out of control tailspin quality-wise then why weren't viewers flocking to ESPNEWS?
Highlight Express isn't the only SportsCenter alternative in existence. NBC Sports Network produces a counter-culture highlight show that airs weekday mornings called The Lights. Or, at least they did. A 20 minute show that is nothing but highlights. Again, a great alternative for those people tired of having debate and analysis shoved down your throat through a funnel. There's not even an anchor - just a voice reading highlights. That's it.
Again though, nobody was watching. Ourand reports The Lights averaged just 21,000 viewers in April. NBCSN even put the show on hiatus during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which one would think is a good time for highlights. That's right, The Lights was such a roaring success that NBC puts it on extended hiatus like it was one of the network's crappy sitcoms.
What's more, when The Lights does come back in late August, NBCSN is going to retool it to focus on sports NBCSN has rights to air.
“You will see ‘The Lights’ evolve, and the programming and our highlight strategy will come forward in a different format,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. “I’m not ready to share what that’s going to be, but I will say that’s going to take on a unique format that’s relevant to the programming that we have coming this fall.”
That's a pretty brash admission considering the criticism ESPN gets for appearing to favor sports that air on their family of networks. NBC is basically admitting they are going to forget an all sports highlight show and try to advance their own network portfolio.
And this is the state of the traditional highlight show - one canceled and one on hiatus that will be dramatically changed.
How can there be this disconnect between angst and disgruntlement over SportsCenter and a failure for a traditional highlight show to emerge?
I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle ground. The traditional highlight show is a relic of a past time in 2013 when fans of particular teams or sports can get highlights instantly. For the more progressive leagues YouTube is a great place to start. Then there's the official league and team sites and even ESPN.com online. There's mobile apps for highlights. And there's league controlled networks who have their own shows to produce even more options.
If you want highlights, you don't have to wait until 11 PM ET anymore. They're right there at your disposal instantly. With the internet and social media, there's no use in waiting around till 11:47 for the Cincinnati Reds highlight anymore. You can find it yourself.
This is why SportsCenter has moved away from showing highlights towards a heavy dose of context, analysis, and reporting. That's why they lean so heavily on the small army of analysts and former players and coaches that rely in Bristol. It's no longer enough to show the what anymore, you have to relate the why and how to reach viewers and gain relevance. This in and of itself is not a horrible thing - it's an evolution of the times.
Where SportsCenter is rightly criticized is how they far too often execute the why and the how. As we examined earlier this week in great detail, there's more fluff than substance in a typical episode, especially during the summer months. When watching SportsCenter, you can largely expect the same stories over and over again on a repeating loop:
Tebow story, LeBron feature, butt fumble video, LeBron tweet, Heat vs Blackhawks, A-Rod story, Kobe, Tebow rumor, Cowboys, Yankees, Lakers, Tebow positional change analysis. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Where's the middle ground? SportsCenter doesn't have to ditch analysis features completely, but they could certainly mix in more highlights and smarter, more relevant features. They don't have to swoop straight down to the lowest common denominator and debate everything or obsess over celebrity. Dial back on "LeBron in Chapters" and spend 5 minutes on what's happening in the AL West. Give some additional love to your great soccer coverage and tell us more about Brazil thrashing Spain or the folks at Wimbledon to expand on what's happening in London. There's an infinite number of options out there that could provide a more balanced, thoughtful show.
It doesn't just have to be SportsCenter though. NBCSN could take the best elements of NBC Sports Talk and The Lights and build a decent program. Fox Sports Live could find the sweet spot that entertains, informs, and delivers the news and highlights of the day and places themselves as a legitimate, relevant alternative.
Do we really want an old school highlights show? Maybe the answer is no. Maybe we just want the new school highlight shows to be better.
Yup, it's the MTV corollary. MTV stopped playing music videos because it's not economically feasible, especially with so many being online, same as sports highlights, AND there is an MTV-sponsored channel that only plays video that nobody watches, yet everyone continues bitching.
The MTV thing has mostly just become a tired meme for people who are no longer in MTV's demographic (they were, at one point, in that demographic and possibly enjoyed MTV, and at that time, older people were still bitching.
Like you said, what people really want from ESPN is not necessarily what they're asking for, but just ESPN to be better at what the fuck they're already doing. They've diversified their coverage past highlights but in the dumbest possible way, and that's chased people like me away.
Sportscenter has literally become celebrity. Liam Neeson was on around the time Taken 2 came out, mostly promoting his movie. They had him try to talk about the Jets and Tebow even though he admitted to not even following the sport. "I just don't understand the game" he kept repeating. Steve Carrell was on and they had him do the TOp 10 as Brick from Anchorman. That one made me cringe.
There exists a happy medium between "Highlight Express", which I didn't even know existed until I heard it was canceled, and the current iteration of Sportscenter. The problem being that ESPN doesn't care to find it as long as they get ratings. And they are.
ESPN News is not on most basic cable packages so it already has a limited audience. So is it people really don't want it or just unable to watch it?
The people who are commenting here are the ones who look at things with self-awareness and rationality. They are the same sort of people who cannot fathom the popularity
I think the reason why Highlight Express failed was because its associated too much with SportsCenter. I think people said "Highlight Express is going to be just like SportsCenter" or "We've seen how ESPN does highlights, forget this." Guilty by association.
I think highlight shows work if the highlights are for the right reasons. Give highlights to the sports that need it. Like right now, focus on baseball. There enough games to show. You don't need a 10 minute Lebron story when you could and should show baseball or any major story. And when I mean major, I'm not talking about Tebow, Lebron, A-Rod, The Miami Heat or anything else.
I don't think SportsCenter has the talent it once did. The best they've got are still the people that have been there a decade or more. I also think watching SC is a tradition for so many people. Whether it's good or not they're going to tune into ESPN and SC. Any other show seems second rate, even if it's on an ESPN network. That's the stigma that will be put on it. Whatever SC does people will watch. I've quit watching because I don't need or want Lebron shoved down my throat but ESPN toes the David Stern line. I don't care what some athlete is tweeting either, or to watch two jackasses argue. I'd much rather watch Dan Patrick's show in the morning. SC sucks, ESPN is sucky but it's tradition for people. They'll keep watching no matter the content because it's what they've done their whole lives. An alternative is going to have to be really good and be given time to steal audience but it's possible. Because there's no substance on ESPN anymore. And I want to say this idea that you can get your highlights from this or that, because it means people are going to 15 different sources for the same content they used to get in 1, but people are that stupid and it's probably true. Whatever is the trendy thing people are going to do it.
The people who are commenting here are the ones who look at things with self-awareness and rationality. They are the same sort of people who cannot fathom the popularity of the Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo, or Twilight. I've stopped relying on comments on any website as an accurate gauge of the attitude of humanity or even of any subculture within it, because the mere fact of their commenting shows how far away they are from the great mass of humanity. Regardless of what people here think, SportsCenter is the way it is because that's what gets people to watch and holds their attention, and I have always suspected that any competitor would do the exact same thing. Fox Sports Live has given off signs of bringing the Embrace Debate philosophy to primetime more than adopting anything suggested here. I hope people aren't projecting their wishful thinking onto FSL before the box is opened and Schroedinger's highlight show actually hits the air.
@morganwick And here you are commenting. Even the people who watch the Kardashians, HBB, Twilight(not sure why you included Twilight it's quite clear that it's a hit with women and why) are the same people who say they don't know why they're famous, and bitch. But it's like a train wreck or a dead body. People look out of morbid curiosity at the same time they're trying not to puke. People watch the Kardashians to know what the rich and vapid live like, and see the "real life drama", and more than anything to have something to bitch about or to feel better about themselves knowing someone with so much money is so pathetic. Honey Boo Boo is part of the white trash fascination going on in this country. People have been watching how the rich and "famous" live while bitching even though them watching is what's making them famous, it's the same fascination we have with the royal family even though they mean nothing. So now people are watching how the other half live in HBB, the trailer park "trash" side of the country.
Let's be honest, I never turn on ESPNNews, so I didn't watch Highlight Express - though if I did I alwasy felt ESPNNews was/is the 3rd or 4th team at ESPN, so that dissuaded me from watching as well. I think ESPN does things like lessens baseball highlights on SC to force fans to watch Baseball Tonight. While I like that, SC should still show all the highlights and still have analysis. Less fluff pieces that have no analysis would be nice as well.
I wonder if for ESPN it is a matter of talent personality and some of the limitations put on by management. I remember the names of more old Sportscenter anchors and there unique phrases. Dan and Keith with the Big Show, Smart and Funny. Kilborn and Haber, Craig list could be long. Larry Biel and "Aloha means Goodbye". I am waiting to see How Jay and Dan do at Fox Sports One, I laugh at all their you tube clips from TSN, I hope they can be that funny and they are given that much rope.
I don't mind analysis of what happened int he game. Like showing how that wide receiver was so open. Or why Clayton Kershaw was dominant.
But when you get into trying to predict the future... then it gets annoying.
I think your point about FOX Sports Live is spot on. They've found a way to inform, entertain and also not take themselves too seriously in the process. Jay, Dan and their staff made it about the viewers without being blasé themselves. Someone like Chris Berman is all about self-promotion, wondering when the next Applebee's check is coming in.
Ultimately, viewers want something that's both entertaining and authentic. "The Lights" was authentic, but never got people excited to watch. SportsCenter to some may be entertaining, but there's nothing real in "embracing forced debate."
For me, I never watch the 30-minute highlight shows because they don't show all of the highlights. I liked 90s era Sportscenter because it gave comprehensive highlights of what happened that day. You just can't do that in a 30-minute show. During the summer, I can watch Quick Pitch and actually get comprehensive MLB highlights. I'm hopeful that Fox Sports Live will be different, but would not be surprised if they are a Sportscenter knockoff.
Fox Sports Live will be what reverses the trend, so long as they let Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole do what they did at TSN. I think that they will. Fox Sports 1 has a strong enough live sports lineup that they can afford to wait for people to find Fox Sports Live.
If they let Charissa Thompson and some of the other hires handle the news and analysis sections and let Onrait and O'Toole do the highlights with the occasional dig at some of the sports topics that have been sensationalized (they did this brilliantly on SportsCentre when LeBron first went to the Heat), then Fox Sports Live will be a must see for sports fans.
I just want balance and fairness. I don't need 30 minutes of LeBron when there were 15 baseball games last night. SportsCenter is failing because its insincere to the viewer. I liked the lights but I don't often watch TV before work, but it was the right idea. Maybe Fox Sports 1 can find that balance. I think people would flock to it if they do and then maybe Sports Center would have some honesty about how bad its become.