ESPN has been at the top of the sports media hierarchy for a very long time now. Established in 1979 with the goal of becoming the go-to network for all athletics coverage around America, they transcended sports television and became an international hit.
Sports fans have been so accustomed to ESPN providing their morning fix of sports news that when other channels — the likes of CNN and HLN — cover their specialized news genre it has felt like a cheap knockoff brand of the real product.
Now, after a few decades that were nothing short of prosperous, ESPN may finally be on the decline.
The world’s largest sports network has been falling steadily in ratings since 2013, and the year of 2015 saw further dramatic decrease.
Sports themselves, are not to blame. The MLB and NHL may not be as popular as they were in the past, but ESPN’s two most covered leagues are the NBA and the NFL — both enjoying golden eras of income.
No, it is ESPN alone that is at fault.
There was a time when watching ESPN was something of a warm tradition to sports fans of all brands. That was back when SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays felt like somewhat of a revolution, and Sunday Night Football still had a comfortable seat in their coverage.
Today’s ESPN is run a little differently. They bought into the mainstream media idea of headlines being more important than articles, internet clicks and TV ratings being a superior measure of success than quality content.
It worked, but only for a while. The recent drop in ESPN’s ratings is the final result to sacrificing the enjoyment of viewership for over-commerciality and extensive marketing plans. After so many sports heroes being turned into inextinguishable fires of media hype, fans began to catch on.
They didn’t want to hear about the hot issues anymore, because they were all worn out. There were too many analysts discussing Lebron’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat teams, too many replays of Jadveon Clowney’s famous hit on Vincent Smith and entire one hour episodes of SportsCenter being morphed into “Deflategate” pieces.
Eventually, trends become annoyances and excitement becomes frustration. Suddenly, likeable athletes join the list of the most hated, and sure-fire Hall of Famers who were once gods in their sport are turned into reality TV stars.
It is not just the overhyping and frustrating marketing that is killing a once universally esteemed sports media outlet. It is creating stories entirely out of thin air — an even worse offense.
Kevin Durant, for instance, has consistently told reporters that he hasn’t even considered leaving the Thunder or returning to Washington D.C. to play for the Wizards. Yet, ESPN has made a monthly habit out of breaking out a group of analysts to gabber back and forth about his impending departure.
Lebron James nor the Cavaliers gave off any evidence that the veteran superstar was behind Head Coach David Blatt’s recent firing, yet ESPN is stating his impact on the decision as if it is a proven fact.
If not complete fabrications, it’s an exaggeration. Ty Lawson recently served his suspension for a DUI that he was arrested for in July (his second), but ESPN headlined the article as “Ty Lawson Suspended Three Games for Latest DUI,” insinuating that he had been pinned down for another DUI charge.
These things are unforgivable or, at least, they should be.
The sad truth is that the majority of the sports media has bitten into these strategies, but ESPN, no doubt, has torn off the largest slice over recent years. It is only fair that they should pay the most hefty price.
Still, it does not look like the worldwide leader in sports is turning back. They are piggybacking on Stephen Curry’s shoulders for 90 percent of their NBA coverage and just a few months ago, they cancelled Grantland, a sub-site known for humorous and insightful long-form pieces.
They may be too determined to keep running with this form of journalism to return to a more artful style. For sports fans, that means that just like ESPN does every time it has milked all it can out of the same story — it is time to move on to something new.