It's no secret July is like the Sahara Desert when it comes to sports content for the general population. As someone who lives and breathes this stuff, I'm not necessarily complaining because I have plenty of alternatives already. Aussie Rules football is in the last third of its regular season. The Gold Cup is taking place and the MLS season rolls on. And of course you've got MLB and the Tour de France along with plenty of other options like NASCAR and F1. The sports are out there, you just have to find them.
But this summer I've noticed something that seems a bit more prominent than usual in the July doldrums - ESPN's focus on football and basketball. More and more, it seems like ESPN is doing everything in their power to shy away from daily MLB talk and focus on stories in sports that aren't active. ESPN has spent much time on NFL offseason issues including the Aaron Hernandez arrest and Ron Jaworski's QB Countdown and a gluttony of time on NBA free agency, perhaps more so than ever before. We're talking multiple days and multiple stories on Dwight Howard as well as multiple segments looking ahead to 2014 free agency and Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. We're talking speculation about who will be free agents a year from now.
The NBA offseason seems to be the story du jour and ESPN is going full throttle by sending an on-site team to the Vegas Summer League starting today:
"ESPN will increase its coverage of NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this year with a full week of on-site SportsCenter segments and reports, July 12-18, from the Thomas & Mack Center and the COX Pavilion. ESPN NBA Insider Chris Broussard will provide on-site reports, starting this Friday, July 12. Sage Steele will host SportsCenter coverage in Las Vegas with ESPN NBA analysts P.J. Carlesimo and Tom Penn, starting on Monday, July 15. Carlesimo has previously coached NBA Summer League, while Penn, a former NBA team executive, will provide the GM’s perspective. SportsCenter segments from Las Vegas, July 12-18, will air throughout those days on ESPN networks."
That's a lot of dedicated coverage for exhibition contests featuring what amounts to AAA and rookie ball rosters, although you'd have to imagine the majority of the discussion will still revolve around Dwight, Carmelo, and LeBron. It's just what ESPN does. The Thomas & Mack Center will just provide a different background.
While it might be nice to see some actual basketball covered and a little in-depth analysis of what's happening in Vegas, it should be startling for MLB fans to see ESPN devote so much coverage to exhibition basketball at the expense of the national pastime. Maybe it's because none of the New York or LA or Chicago teams are in first place in the MLB standings and the Sawx-Yanks rivalry has cooled. Maybe it's because small market teams like Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati are doing well. And maybe it's just because this year's Vegas Summer League is that interesting. I mean, who's not excited to see the likes of Jonny Flynn, Austin Rivers, and Nando de Colo?
Truthfully though, this isn't an ESPN problem. It's a baseball problem. Baseball has failed to captivate younger fans as seen in these depressing ratings numbers...
MLB on FOX is getting even older. Season to date, 63% of viewers are 50 or older. Median age is 57 years. 2-17 year olds=6% of audience— TVSportsRatings (@TVSportsRTGS) July 10, 2013
Among male teens, 60 Minutes outrates MLB on FOX by 32%— TVSportsRatings (@TVSportsRTGS) July 10, 2013
If ESPN doesn't see the ratings or interest there in talking MLB, especially in key demos, they will take their business elsewhere. The NBA has been a hugely successful partner for ESPN and where the stars and ratings are, Bristol will follow. That's exactly what's happening with ESPN's sudden interest in covering the NBA Summer League.
Matt did it ever occur to you that Sportscenter is sending some people to the Vegas NBA Summer League, to fill time during the last 3 days before the 4 days that all 30 MLB teams will haveoff for the MLB All-Star Break, not only that but ESPN will have Karl Ravech, Curt Schilling, Barry Larkin, Tim Kurkjian and Buster Olney working the Chevolet Home Run Derby on Monday night and the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday Night Live from New York for Baseball Tonight and Sportscenter and ESPN will have some of it's golf broadcasters giving reports from Scotland for the Open Championship on ESPN for Sportscenter all of next week too!!!
Is this evidence that "ESPN won't cover the NHL because they don't have it" isn't the whole story? Anyone paying attention would have known that, and it's tempting to say that ESPN is punishing MLB for not giving them more postseason games, but can we stop with hockey fans having an inflated sense of their sport's importance now?
Watching baseball requires patience, which simply doesn't mesh with an impatient, fidgety mass. It isn't bad, it's just the nature of things. Thank God I have patience. However, I tend to find MLBN, NBATV & NFLN better anyway.
sir boxington ESPN just overpaid for the rights to keep MLB for years into the future. The difference between MLB and the NFL and NBA is that those other two sports are used to fuel ratings year round while MLB is simply required to fill a summer hole in programming. ESPN has always given up on MLB by Labor Day stuffing their weekly required games into a Wednesday night doubleheader while transitioning to NCAA and NFL football. ESPN showed Oakland v Pittsburgh last Wednesday as their token obligation to show anyone else but their usual suspects. I'm sure the ratings for that game will cause them to never go that route again.
I think the baseball sucks argument is probably the most relevant. Nobody under 30 outside of a few markets cares. And that's the truth.
It's quite simple. The four-letter network overpays for rights to televise the NFL and the NBA. So, they must add more sizzle to justify the price they are paying for the steak. They can now say that part of the money has been recouped with advertising dollars positioned in NFL and NBA themed 'shows'.
Old people have the money so it may not all be bad for baseball as of now. Young people have no house, jobs, but lots of debt. Probably time to change the overall ratings model and goals.
The problem is baseball is so resistant to change and being progressive, and that tends to push away a younger audience like myself (I'm 21, but baseball is my favorite sport, so I'll always support it.) I can't blame ESPN for not covering it when MLB doesn't give them a reason to, although I hate that the notion that the small markets being successful suddenly makes the game unwatchable. And then when baseball people would say that Yasiel Puig being consider as a candidate for the All-Star team was a "travesty" is ridiculous. What's a travesty is that Derek Jeter didn't play a single play on the field and he was on the ballot, and got a ton of votes at that. That's the real problem with baseball. It's too traditionalist, and doesn't want to change, and that will unfortunately lead to it being even less prominent in America.
Being a 50+, I hate SportsCenter, love QuickPitch (and Heidi and Alana and Sam!), and detest the NBA. Maybe MLB is not gay enough for ESPN?
This is not surprising, really. As the writer points out the New York, LA and Chicago teams are all doing poorly this year and people have become fatigued with the constant jamming of Red Sox-Yankees down our throats. You saw the coverage tick back up yesterday when a 39 year old shortstop came back for a fourth place team, but that will go back. ESPN has simply replaced Yanks-Sox talk with NBA and NFL. The sane baseball fan goes to MLB Network exclusively these days. ESPN has very limited scope and a depth chart (1. NFL 2. CFB 3. NBA 4. Yanks-Sox 5. Tiger Woods 6. Nascar 7. The rest of MLB....434. NHL)