By Matt Stroup
Like any serious sports fan, I’ve watched enough televised action to know that promoting upcoming on-air games is a necessary evil for any sports broadcast. When you tune in, you know you’re going to hear the announcers telling you what’s coming up and when you can see it. Over the years, I’ve come to accept this as a required but irritating part of the commentators’ job, and I’m sure they feel similarly. It’s annoying, but we deal with it.
However, during Monday night’s broadcast of the Yankees-Red Sox game, ESPN’s promotional efforts went too far. All of a sudden, in the midst of one of baseball’s most compelling rivalries, what had been the broadcast of a baseball game launched into a full-blown NBA Finals on ABC hype fest. Onto the screen came a graphic comparing the careers of Yankees’ manager Joe Torre and Heat coach Pat Riley, with ESPN talking heads Rick Sutcliffe and Gary Thorne marveling at the similarities between their stats (as if there are really any merits to comparing coaching careers from different sports).
Shortly afterward, we (the viewers) were told that coming up later, we would get to hear the Yankees’ players NBA Finals predictions. (Yay!) And in almost the same breath, Thorne and Sutcliffe threw it down to sideline reporter Erin Andrews, who had a report on how the Red Sox and Mavs share the same sports psychologist.
Like I said, I go into any sports broadcast ready to be bombarded with promos, but this deluge left me feeling suffocated to the point that I nearly flipped the channel to Oxygen.
Here’s the thing: The way I see it, the ground rules are already laid out. We (the viewers) tune in, and the networks use the announcers as their mouthpieces to tell us what else we should watch. Annoying? Quite often, yes. But at least there’s a manageable formula — for example, right after a timeout, we’ll hear Marv Albert quickly read through a promo and then be done with it. It’s digestable enough, you know it’s coming, and if you want you can tune out.
But what ESPN did on Monday night broke the rules of this little unspoken agreement we have. By completely hijacking the broadcast with NBA Finals-related material that was as subtle as a bowling ball rolling down a flight of stairs, the Worldwide Leader turned the entire baseball game into a commercial for that unbearable period of time, instead of just briefly interrupting it, as is the tradition.
I understand the concept — make the advertising more interesting and people will be more likely to tune in. But this was a disaster because it was very clear that no one involved was happy. The announcers clearly weren’t into it, even though they attempted to fake interest (which only made it worse). And I feel pretty confident in saying that most other viewers out there shared my irritation in having to watch this mess.
The message: Keep it simple, ESPN. No need to reinvent the wheel. Make the in-game promos short and keep them contained. In return for your cooperation in this matter, you have my word: I will watch the NBA Finals.
(Please don’t tell ESPN because you’ll ruin my bargaining position, but I was gonna watch the NBA Finals anyways.)