Saturday, August 29, 2009

ESPN still doesn't get it...

Last year among a sea of backlash and talk of an "east coast bias", ESPN attempted to appease its viewers and sponsors by opening a studio in Los Angeles and telecasting their 10:00 pacific time Sportscenter, live from LA. Some of the anchors even joked on the air that this proved there was no East Coast bias on ESPN (which has been nicknamed the Everything Sox and Pinstripes Network - a pretty fitting moniker). ESPN has certainly done some wonderful things in it's more than 3 decades on the air. It has made sports more accessible to fans. It's spinoffs - ESPN the Magazine and are also wonderful mediums for fans to learn about sports. But, like with other things that become popular, ESPN has used its popularity to shove agendas down Americans' collective throats. If you asked 10 people what are the two most annoying sports stories going right now, I would venture to guess that 7 of those 10 people would say Brett Favre and Michael Vick. Yet, Sportscenter (and the dozens of other talking head shows that ESPN telecasts) not only tend to lead with these two stories on a daily basis, but we hear about everything they do. And nobody wants to hear it anymore.

ESPN claims that there is no East Coast Bias, and that they proved as much by broadcasting live from LA now. That's nice window dressing, but let's dig a little deeper. I pulled their TV schedule for the MLB game of the week this season - the game that they broadcast every Sunday night. There are 25 total games of the week - the game that is supposed to feature the most compelling story line. With 25 games, that means that there will be a total of 50 opportunities for teams to get featured. As it turns out, 18 of the 30 MLB teams will appear on Sunday Night Baseball this year. Out of those 18 teams, 8 of them play in the East, 6 in the mid west and 4 out west. Not a horrible imbalance. But it gets worse. The 4 West Coast teams are featured a total of 8 times. The 6 Mid West teams are featured 14 times. And the 8 East Coast teams are featured 28 times. That seems a little skewed. Additionally, ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball only features a west coast team playing another west coast team twice. By comparison, two mid west teams playing each other occurs 5 times and two east coast teams going head to head happens an astonishing 11 times (or 44% of all Sunday Night games feature two east coast teams playing each other). Also, the 28 times that any east coast team is featured on Sunday Night Baseball equates to 56% of the time, you are seeing an east coast team.

The Yankees and Red Sox is a nice rivalry. But as I said in a previous blog, it's hard to convince an intelligent fan that you are the best rivalry in baseball when there was a solid 15 year period that you couldn't sell out games against each other. Also, is it really a rivalry when one team had such dominance over the other for 86 years? A rivalry is when both teams win their fair share of the games, and when the fans show up out of pure hatred for the other team, regardless of win-loss records or who the media tells us is a great rivalry. The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is older and features a much more deep-seeded hatred. And the Giants-Dodgers rivalry? It is the oldest in all of baseball. It has spanned not one, but two coasts. The only reason the Dodgers even play in LA is because the Giants agreed to move to San Francisco and not Minneapolis in 1958. The Northern California- Southern California rivalry makes the rivalry between the cities of Boston and New York look like clam chowder. At a Giants-Dodgers game in 2005, a local San Francisco news team was interviewing fans gong into the ballpark. They stopped a woman in a Giants hat and asked her if she was a big Giants fan. She replied, "no. Not really. Actually, I hate baseball." The reporter was confused and asked her if she hated baseball why was she there. She quickly said, "Because I hate the Dodgers more." But do these things ever make ESPN? No. Instead, they shove the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry down our throats, much the way they do Favre and Vick. The Giants and Dodgers have yet to play each other on ESPN at all this season - on a Sunday Night game or any other day of the week. Part of this is because ESPN refuses to telecast any baseball games that start at 10:00 eastern time during the week. Meanwhile, the Yankees-Red Sox will appear on ESPN 6 times, including all 3 times they meet on a Sunday. Even the Cubs and Cardinals get 2 games on Sunday Night Baseball. Heck, the Braves and Philles get to renew their long standing rivalry (cough, cough) on three different Sunday Night games, including two times in a three week span. But no, there's no East Coast bias whatsoever.

This Sunday Night, ESPN could have televised a 72-57 team playing at a 70-59 team. Team B is trailing Team A there by 2 games in the Wild Card race. Instead, ESPN in its infinite wisdom will televise a team 74-52 playing a team 67-61. A team 8 games up in their division, playing a team currently sitting 4 1/2 out of the Wild Card race. And this is the second time in three weeks we will get to see the same two teams playing on Sunday Night Baseball. Why subject us to Phillies-Braves again, when the Wild Card's top two teams are going head to head (and if the Giants win on Saturday Night, they will be going for the tie on Sunday)?

ESPN may claim there is no East Coast Bias going on, but actions speak louder than words.

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