The Death of SportsCenter: How The Once Mighty Highlights Show Lost Its Way

As a proud member of Generation Y, I grew up in a privileged time where television and breakfast weren’t mutually exclusive.

We had a little 13-inch Zenith sticking out of a cabinet in our kitchen. It was white, there was no remote control, and I believe in its fifth or sixth year the power button stopped working so plugging it in to the socket and then unplugging it became our on/off switch.

As a sixth grader in 1994, I can remember waking up as late as humanly possible—6:50AM I think—frantically showering while most likely skipping over key body parts, getting dressed in my Catholic school blues (navy blue pants, light blue shirt, navy blue knit tie), and then sprinting to the kitchen table to eek out as much breakfast and TV time as possible until Bus 2 showed up to bring me to St. Joe’s. When my brothers and I got to that kitchen table every morning, my Mom would change the TV from the news to “SportsCenter” on ESPN. This is why the getting ready process needed to happen so quickly, so I could maximize my time watching the previous day’s sports highlights. And like clockwork, two minutes after I sat down at the table my Mom would put a plate of perfectly cooked Eggo Waffles in front of me, with just the right amount of syrup on top and some extra on the side (to this day my Mom regrets the one time she burned my waffles and had to endure nine years of me instructing her before bed each night to “put the waffles into the toaster carefully” the next morning).

I’d like to think I was a pretty typical 12-year-old back then. My mind was usually focused on girls (if I’m not mistaken, Allison Cotton was the girl I obsessed over during sixth grade) and making sure my homework was perfect (how things have changed). But for those 15-20 minutes each morning, SportsCenter was all that mattered.

It was perfect. A bombardment of highlights from every major sporting event around the country. Things that I could never watch live back then, either because I wasn’t allowed to stay up late enough to see it or because there was literally no way to get that particular game on our cable package.

Today’s sixth graders will never know that feeling of putting the TV on one channel and getting the quick-hitting highlights of all their favorite sports. I imagine the kids who are watching SportsCenter while they devour their Lucky Charms these days are very educated in the subjects of Tim Tebow, LeBron James, PEDs, Brett Favre’s yearly unretirement speculation and the sad circus that is the New York Jets.

Those poor kids have 15 minutes before Bus 2 comes, and instead of seeing highlights of the 10 baseball games that were played the previous night, they’re getting Stephen A. Smith screaming at them about Derrick Rose refusing to come back from his knee injury. Those poor kids.

I might be at risk of sounding way behind the times here, but I see no reason to put the TV on ESPN for one of their highlights shows ever again. SportsCenter, Highlight Express, ESPNEWS, NFL Live, Baseball Tonight….all dead to me.

Some of you may be like “Dur, Ross, SportsCenter became irrelevant years ago, dummy.” Well excuse me for being slow on the uptake. I have a feeling there are plenty of non-early adopters who are wondering why I’m saying ESPN is obsolete.

Well, let me explain from the average sports fan’s perspective. You may think I’m going to tell you to simply watch highlights online, but that’s not the case. I don’t watch many highlights online because I still like the analysis that the in-studio personalities provide. Instead, I tape the NHL Network’s “NHL Live” and the MLB Network’s “Quick Pitch” every night, and when I wake up the next morning, I plow through the two hours of programming in about one hour.

When the NFL starts up in less than two months, I’ll be taping the NFL Network’s “NFL GameDay” for my football highlights.

Now that these individual sports channels exist and have perfected their highlight shows, I can see exactly what I want—no more, no less—without having to endure all the bullshit that floods ESPN’s shows (the Jets quarterback controversy! Lebron doesn’t have enough rings! the Yankees hate A-rod!).

I think the downward spiral of SportsCenter began in 2005 when ESPN baseball reporter Pedro Gomez was essentially embedded in San Francisco for the final three years of Barry Bonds’ career. We would get daily updates not only on Bonds’ fictitious pursuit of the home run record, but also of every off-the-field moment concerning his legal battles with BALCO and the perjury case. At the time, ESPN was probably just giving us what we were asking for. But then it really spiraled out of control with nonstop coverage of Brett Favre’s daily indecisiveness…and the rest is history.

Maybe you’re the type of person who won’t believe me when I tell you that ESPN doesn’t hold a candle to the other sports channels’ highlight shows. Maybe you need analytical evidence. That’s fine because I have that for you too.

Earlier this year, I crunched some numbers on SportsCenter’s morning show and the NHL Live morning show. The night before I sat down to study these shows there were only two major sports going on, three playoff hockey games and 10 baseball games.

I found that NHL Live ran highlights complete with player sound bytes and in-studio analysis on all three games within 13 minutes of going on the air. That’s not too bad, right? Sit down with your bowl of Cheerios, and 13 minutes later you’re completely caught up on last night’s action. If you had a full hour, you could have sat around to watch more player interviews, analysis of the playoffs and updates on non-playoff hockey news. But if you were in a rush, you’d still be completely caught up in less than 15 minutes.

With SportsCenter that same morning, they led off with highlights of the most intriguing playoff hockey game—Penguins/Islanders—but then we had to wait until minute 44 of the program to see highlights of the third and final hockey game from the night before. Forty-four minutes!

In between minute one and minute 44, SportsCenter covered some baseball, but the focus seemed to be more on two controversies from earlier in the week—the Angels’ protest of the way the Astros substituted pitchers, and the lingering frustration of the A’s over the umpires’ blown home run call in their game against the Indians a couple days before.

Out of the 10 baseball games played the previous night, SportsCenter didn’t provide a single second of highlights for three of those games (four of the six teams ignored by ESPN were above .500 at the time, and three of those teams were in 1st place…so it’s not like they ignored an Astros/Mariners game, which no one would complain about).

Over the course of a one-hour show, baseball was given nine minutes of highlights and updates. Hockey was provided seven minutes.

Why would you watch one hour of programming just to get 16 minutes of actual highlights? Maybe you like seeing the 3,000th package of Tiger Woods’ career and his chase for more majors, or you enjoy a sound byte montage of every NBA player and coach saying how hard it is to win in the playoffs.

If you like that sort of stuff, fine, keep watching SportsCenter. But if you enjoy sports for the actual games that are played on the field/court/ice, it’s time to ditch SportsCenter and its offspring entirely and get on board with relevant highlights from each sports league’s flagship TV channel. It’s the only way to get all of the information you want and none of the information you hate.

A few days after I studied SportsCenter’s lack of relevant material, I saw this tweet and started shaking my head:

sportscenter tweet_5-31-13

If I had seen that tweet as a sixth grader in 1994, I would have agreed and probably retweeted it. But in 2013 it’s just a reminder of how ESPN lost its way.

Advertisements

The Best Possible Sporting Event You Can Attend? The Verdict Is In

For the record, I’m a casual golf fan—I can name most of the popular professional golfers, and I’ll typically watch three of the four days of the major tournaments on TV only if there’s not a better sport on at the same time.  But that’s where it ends for me.  I can’t tell you who the top 10 golfers in the world are based on their ranking (interestingly enough, the top 10 ranked golfers are not necessarily the most popular golfers to the casual fan), and I certainly can’t pretend like I’ll watch one of the lesser-known tournaments.

As far as my golf-playing abilities, I’ll just tell you that I’m left-handed, have been playing golf left-handed for the past 14 years, but there’s a chance I could start playing right-handed tomorrow and immediately be better.  I’m uncommitted enough to the sport that I’m living in LA and my clubs still live in San Francisco.

But I’m going to try to convince you that watching a major golf tournament in person may be the best live sporting event you can attend—whether you’re a diehard golf fan or someone who doesn’t know the difference between Tiger Woods and a 5-Wood.

While I’ll try to sound like a total expert on this topic, I’ve actually been to only two major golf tournaments in my life: the 2010 U.S Open at Pebble Beach and the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.  These experiences were amazing enough that I will probably attend any Major for the rest of my life that is taking place within a 500-mile radius of where I live.

A quick note for the uninitiated: there are four Major Tournaments in golf each year, and in terms of importance, you should think of them as the Championships.  The best golfers in the world are ultimately measured in terms of how many Majors they’ve won.  So while there is only one Championship in baseball, basketball, football and hockey each year, there are essentially four in golf.

Here’s one man’s incomplete list of why a Major is the best live sporting event you can see in person:

-$6 per beer!  Let’s start off with the most important reason.  Every sporting event is better with alcohol, but we’ve all been conditioned to expect to pay nearly $10 per beer at every stadium.  At these golf tournaments, you pay only $6…meaning by the time you’ve spent $60 on alcohol, you’ve had four more beers than if you were at a baseball game.  That’s a steal!  (I should add the lack of a two-beer limit at the concession stands as a plus for those of you who like to triple or quadruple-fist your drinks.)

-No assigned seating.  There’s an amazing freedom when it comes to being at a golf tournament.  Your ticket allows you to roam around the course, watching golfers at as many of the 18 holes as you want.  And you can choose to watch them teeing off at the start of a hole, hitting their second shots from (hopefully) the fairway, or snuggle up close to the green and watch them finish.  You can choose to sit or stand on the grass around the green, or you can get a seat in the makeshift bleachers they setup at every hole.  There’s really no limit to where you choose to watch (apparently if you’re the second best NFL quarterback, you can even follow Tiger Woods around to each hole inside the ropes where the public is not allowed, just like Aaron Rodgers did last Friday at the U.S. Open).  This means there’s a decent chance some of the best golfers in the world are taking a shot within five feet of where you’re watching.  By comparison, think about the ticket you buy for a playoff basketball game.  It probably cost you $150 and you’re probably in the nosebleeds.  You’re stuck there and it sucks.  Even if you paid $2,000 for a 3rd row seat, Lebron is never going to be taking a three-pointer from a spot where you could reach out and touch him.

-Speaking of ticket prices…only $100 per ticket.  This may seem expensive to watch a bunch of guys play golf, but let’s put it in the perspective of a Major being the equivalent of a Championship game in other sports.  Even if you get a ticket to a Stanley Cup Finals game for $100, you’re paying for essentially three hours of entertainment (or $33.33 per hour).  One day at the golf tournament gives you about 12 hours of entertainment if you choose to be there that long (or $8.33 per hour).  You tell me which is the bigger bang for your buck?  Actually, the ticket prices for the weekend days of the Open were $125, but plenty of people were selling them on Craigslist for $100.  When’s the last time you bought tickets for a playoff game BELOW FACE VALUE??

-Chance an errant shot lands directly in front of you.  Here’s another beauty of golf: Even though the golfers would like to play all their shots from within the roped off section because that’s where they’re supposed to hit it, it never works out that way.  Every player screws up bad enough that they have shots where the ball goes into the crowd.  When this happens, if you’re lucky enough to be standing near where the ball lands, you get to see one of the coolest things in sports…a golfer only 18 inches away from you, talking to his caddy about how the hell he’s going to hit from behind a giant Cypress tree.  And you’re actually allowed to crowd around the guy when he takes this next shot.  Just take a look at this youtube clip to see what I’m talking about.  This situation happened to me three or four times in one day at the Open last weekend, and being up close and personal for these shots was cooler than I can describe.

-No jumbotrons or artificially pumping up the crowd.  Unlike at venues that host the four popular sports, there is no one on a golf course telling the fans when to get loud.  Actually it’s the exact opposite.  Officials have to signal the fans to be silent when a player’s about to swing.  What this means to me is that you get a lot more natural of a crowd reaction in golf.  There’s no stupid scoreboard telling the fans to yell “De-Fense” or simply urging them to “get loud.”  When a golf crowd goes bonkers, it’s organic…the shot they watched was simply that amazing.

-Speaking of the venues, golf is the only sport where the playing surface is truly an X factor for the players.  In fact, sometimes the golf course can end up being the biggest star of the weekend because it’s so unique, difficult, beautiful or something else (like this past weekend in San Francisco…the Olympic Club course was talked about more than any single player.  It was so difficult that we were surprised to see most of the players even bother showing up for their final round on Sunday).  And the courses can be so different from one tournament to another.  One tournament you might have a hole that’s 670 yards long, and the next tournament there’s no hole longer than 550 yards.  Always bringing a new challenge for the players.  Obviously in football, the field is always 100 yards long.  In basketball the court is 94 feet long.  There are no hills, no water, no sand traps and no trees to compete with in these sports.  The golf course is an added opponent for the players.

-Rooting for every player to do well.  Like I said earlier, I’m a casual fan so maybe this is different for hardcore golf enthusiasts, but I doubt it.  At a golf tournament, the entire crowd is rooting for every player to succeed.  Since it’s not a sport where the guys play defense on each other, you don’t have to pick which side to root for on a specific play.  You can root for every golfer to have great shots and scores, and eventually someone will be just enough better to win.  In golf, the crowd tends to be supportive of great shots and great play rather than cheering for a specific player or team.  And you certainly never see the crowd booing one of the golfers.  Compared to those other sports, being at a golf event is full of positive vibes and reactions from the entire crowd.  What’s not to love about that?

-Golf fans’ attire.  Before you go thinking golf is too serious, just know that there’s a very humorous aspect to being at a tournament.  Golf fans apparently like to dress up as if they are actually playing golf when they go to see a tournament.  I really struggle to understand this phenomenon.  It seems like everyone wants to be ready in case the PGA starts asking fans to participate in the tournament.  Fans will dress up in ridiculously goofy pants, polo shirts and sweater vests.  And believe it or not, many of them will actually wear golf shoes with the spikes on the bottom…to watch other people golf!  Can you imagine if hockey fans dressed up in full gear, including helmets to see an NHL game?  Or if all basketball fans only wore mesh shorts and a tank top to NBA games?  Keep in mind that there is plenty of funny people watching at these golf events.

Now before the naysayers can say nay about my article, let me bring up the one negative people are likely to point out.  “There are 18 holes on the golf course and upwards of 150 players competing.  In every other sport you can see the entire game happen, with all the players involved, from your seat.  In golf, you can never see everything so you’re missing out on a lot.”  That’s fair.  But at least at these majors they do a great job having a leaderboard setup at every hole so you can constantly see who’s winning overall and who’s moving up or down.  On top of that, they give you a little radio earpiece that broadcasts the live coverage of the tournament.  So even if you’re standing at the 13th hole watching the guys in last place, you can be listening to what’s happening with the leaders over on the 2nd hole.  When a new group of players approaches your hole, you’re always up-to-date on where they’re at in the standings.

I know this list is incomplete so I urge my fellow U.S. Open compadres to add more reasons in the comment section.

If the Celtics Lose Game 7, Do NOT Let Them Off the Hook

The Celtics do NOT get a free pass if they lose Game 7 on Saturday.  Any fan that claims the Celtics are playing with house money at this point—therefore rationalizing a loss to Miami in the final game of the Eastern Conference Finals—is a complete buffoon.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I already know how the narrative will go if the Celtics lose on Saturday.  The “ESPN experts” will say something like, “It was a valiant effort by an older Celtics team…a team no one expected to make it this far.  They should be proud of putting up such a good fight, especially if it is the last stand for the Big Three.”

The ignorant fans will be talking months from now about how they didn’t expect this team to A). make the playoffs, B). beat Atlanta in Round One, or C). Advance to the Conference Finals.  The subtext being, “Yeah, it sucks they lost, but since we didn’t expect them to make it this far, we can’t be too upset that they fell short of the Finals.”

Fuck that.

You know who would never entertain the idea of “playing with house money?”

Kevin Garnett.

Just listen to one of that guy’s postgame rants and you’ll realize he expects to win the NBA Championship every time he steps on the court.

The Celtics should have ended the Heat series in five games, considering they outplayed Miami in games two through five.  Just like they should have ended the 76ers series in five games as they outplayed Philadelphia in games one, three, four and five.

This isn’t a team that lacks so much talent compared to their opponents that we should feel lucky they’re winning.  They have plenty of talent; they’re just as healthy as every other playoff team (just ask Chicago about Derrick Rose or Miami about Chris Bosh); they have three future Hall-of-Famers and a former Coach of the Year.  They are not outmatched.

Sure, win or lose on Saturday I’ll still be proud of the fight they put up this postseason.  They certainly could have come up with plenty of excuses to bow out early.  But since they have gotten to this point—and proved that they belong in the Finals just as much as any other team—I think it’s only fair that we expect them to win.

If you’re a Celtics fan, it’s understandably lazy to be happy they made it this far and not expect anything more.  Be better than that.  Expect this team to be in the Finals.  The old guys taking the floor on Saturday night certainly will.