FanDuel - WFBC

July 11, 2011

Ombudsman: Has ESPN Learned from The Decision?: One year later, media ethicist Kelly McBride asks whether ESPN has learned from The Decision, the LeBron James media event the network produced, funded and covered like news. Answer: Probably not. "If our goal was to get people to watch television, we succeeded," said Vince Doria, ESPN's senior vice president and director of news.

posted by rcade to basketball at 02:02 PM - 13 comments

What is there to learn for ESPN, except to do this again? It brought in a huge number of viewers. People tuned into talk shows to hear about LeBron and the Heat. It helped create a very successful NBA season, which only helps ESPN's ratings and bottom line. We can argue all we want about it The Decision being distasteful, but from a business's perspective, why wouldn't ESPN not want The Decision to happen?

posted by jmd82 at 03:15 PM on July 11

IF "our goal was to get people to watch television," televised executions would be the ultimate reality show.

Biggest laugh from story: ESPN is a "journalism organization." It's freaking entertainment, and that's all.

posted by graymatters at 03:37 PM on July 11

... from a business's perspective, why wouldn't ESPN not want The Decision to happen?

Because the network's credibility suffers when it orchestrates news events hand-in-hand with sports stars. I used to love ESPN, ESPN Radio and ESPN.Com. Now, I'll watch a live sporting event on ESPN, but I avoid everything else as much as possible.

posted by rcade at 03:45 PM on July 11

ESPN, let's remember, stands for Entertainment Sports Programming Network. That whole charade with LeBron James was more evidence that it's all about entertainment, nothing more.

posted by insomnyuk at 06:51 PM on July 11

I take issue with the whole notion that it matters not whether we like you or hate you, but that we simply consume you. I think it does matter in very important ways. I'd like to think that we should strive for better.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 07:13 PM on July 11

Biggest laugh from story: ESPN is a "journalism organization." It's freaking entertainment, and that's all.

I disagree.

Investigative reporting isn't necessarily "entertainment", and they'll do that occasionally.

posted by grum@work at 11:10 PM on July 11

As an on-going business entity, I would think that ESPN's goal would be to maximize long-term viewership, not go for a one time big bang.

I side with rcade on this, I no longer care much for a lot of what ESPN puts out, so they may have actually hurt their ratings more than helped them.

It's all entertainment, so maybe it really doesn't matter much, however, credibility is an important asset for the media. Seems foolish to waste any of it on such a contrived event.

posted by dviking at 12:02 AM on July 12

Cowherd (who I'm no big fan of for awhile now) has repeatedly made the point that the "hard core" sports fans will stay w/ESPN no matter what they do; they're always trying to reel in the more casual fan. That's why things like "The Decision" happen; hard core fans will watch standard coverage about where LeBron will play next; The Decision will rope the casual fan in.

I think we all understand this position; what Cowherd & ESPN don't understand is that many well-informed fans like rcade won't always stick around-there are other great options today for fans. I tend to think that the demise of ESPN's more objective journalism dimension is exaggerated, but reasonable minds can differ on this I suppose. The troubling thing with Doria's view is that your base is just that; your base. You lose them, you've lost your network. ESPN is not as invincible as they suppose. Probably a good idea to be a bit more introspective about how this was handled.

posted by brainofdtrain at 02:20 AM on July 12

There's a living to be made in setting one's self up for public ridicule. And a time-honored tradition in the US of doing so. The beauty of it is that it works whether it is inadvertent or not. You can become an icon whether you're Curly Howard or Sarah Palin.

LeBron may have been a bit disillusioned to realize that he was simply a disposable tool in the process. If they need to do another segment like that, they can always find another willing fool. Meanwhile, LeBron has to live and work with the ridicule and all that goes with it. He didn't go to college, but he's sure enough going to school now. Tough way to learn stuff.

Jim Gray was also a suitable sacrificial object - no one liked him to begin with. If ESPN had thought they were doing something that was worthy and legitimate, they would have had someone better and more respected conduct the interview. They have people like that on the payroll, don't they?

posted by beaverboard at 07:17 AM on July 12

Do I want to see ESPN doing more shows like "The Decision"? No, not really. Do I understand why they did it? Of course, it got the ratings. Is it going to force me to stay away from them? No, because they have never said that their goal is to be all about sports all the time. As insomnyuk pointed out, Entertainment is what the E in ESPN stands for. Its not like they are MTV who started out showing music videos and now you never see music there. You still get to see sporting events on ESPN, they just mix them in around entertainment shows. Do people really want to go back to the days of ESPN showing Worlds Strongest Man competitions all day long before interrupting the marathon for a one hour Sports Center and then showing fishing shows and billiards tournaments until 2am?

To me I compare the people who complain about ESPN's evolution to being the same people who complain about their favorite band that they used to go see play in some smokey bar on the out skirts of town. One day that band gets discovered and becomes big time, but as per their contract with the record label has to play some sugar shit song that gets lots of radio play and makes the weekly top 40. Initially the people are so happy that the band they knew about before everyone else has now made it big, but once they go commercial and become something that everyone knows they suddenly become "sell outs". Which would you rather be, the millionaire rock star living it up in Beverly Hills or the band playing places with saw dust on the floor but living off food stamps because its all about the art?

Well ESPN is now living it up in Beverly Hills while everyone complains that they have abandoned their "art" instead of watching some of the really good TV that they still occasionally put out (OTL, some of the 30 for 30 documentaries). Personally I am willing to deal with "The Decision" and Chris Berman if it gets me more OTL's and 30 for 30's.

posted by Demophon at 09:41 AM on July 12

As insomnyuk pointed out, Entertainment is what the E in ESPN stands for.

I don't think the E has stood for entertainment for a long time. They just became letters.

To me I compare the people who complain about ESPN's evolution to being the same people who complain about their favorite band that they used to go see play in some smokey bar on the out skirts of town.

That seems glib to me. ESPN reached a point for me where the good things it does are overshadowed by the bad things. It hasn't been small since the early '80s. I liked it for many years after it made it big. But having this one giant sports network with its hooks all over sports is troubling, especially when they start creating their own news and using news coverage to reward sports leagues that partner with them and ignore the ones that don't.

Remember the LeBron story they spiked where a reporter tagged along for one of his decadent pay-to-party-with-me events? ESPN is in bed with the athletes and leagues that it covers. Maintaining access is more important to the network than journalism.

I intentionally avoid ESPN as much as possible. I go to Yahoo Sports over ESPN.Com, local sports talk over ESPN Radio and don't watch SportsCenter more than a few times a year. I haven't even tried a 30 for 30 yet, though I keep getting told they're great. I think we're long overdue for a national sports network to compete for the 24-hour sports news market. It's a shame CNNSI killed its TV channel.

posted by rcade at 10:22 AM on July 12

To me I compare the people who complain about ESPN's evolution to being the same people who complain about their favorite band that they used to go see play in some smokey bar on the out skirts of town.

I find Weezer to be the most analagous to ESPN.

posted by tron7 at 11:02 AM on July 12

rcade, ESPN's 30 for 30 film about Terry Fox was really excellent. I agree with you about playing favorites, they barely cover the NHL, and it's gotten worse since Versus took over broadcasting games. Maybe with no NBA season they will be forced to cover hockey more. As far as sports coverage on TV goes, ESPN is really the only game in town. I get all the NHL coverage I want from the NHL network and Yahoo Sports and I watch SportsCenter to see highlights from other sports.

posted by insomnyuk at 11:39 AM on July 12

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