Is ESPN bleeding? It all depends on the context.
6pm SportsCenter averaged 490K. A year ago it averaged 496K. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) March 22, 2018
According to Sports TV Ratings on Twitter, the 6 p.m. EST SportsCenter, the bastion of ESPN’s original content, is exactly as it was a year ago, more or less. Yet, the narrative surrounding it would make one think otherwise. SC6 did in fact collapse, as Jemele Hill’s outspokenness undoubtedly created some controversy and criticism of the show, causing her to relocate within the Bristol empire.
Attacks of SC6 and calling it a failure weren’t ESPN’s only problems. Its relationship with the NFL is at an all-time low; the league has given its commodity to a key competitor in FOX. Its president was forced to resign due to substance abuse – turns out he was potentially being extorted for buying cocaine. That same president, John Skipper, embarrassingly cancelled “Barstool Van Talk” after a single episode and is accused of allowing a continued culture of sexual harassment to fester. Many a pundit is attacking ESPN for a supposed liberal bias. Fewer and fewer members of younger generations and key demographics are subscribing to traditional cable, cutting revenues. And there have been layoffs. Lots and lots of layoffs.
With even more of those layoffs on the horizon, the oft-attacked monolith is not in an unfamiliar position of trying to stem the tide. SportsCenter’s value and perception have taken a massive hit as Instagram and Twitter highlights instaneously meet fans’ need for content. It may not be tenable in this era of media.
Yet ESPN is betting big on it and a man whose wife apparently thinks he’s an idiot to save it. The Disney subsidiary released a trailer for Mike Greenberg’s, the former co-host of Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio, feature SportsCenter “Get Up” debut (after much delay) in advance of its April 2 premiere.
The show, featuring ESPNers Jalen Rose and Michelle Beadle (who Sports Media Critic Richard Deitsch likes to exclaim create CAA client triangle), will be one of “news, opinion and analysis.”
Truly groundbreaking stuff. While I intend to give the show a glance, morning television isn’t a part of my life and isn’t much a part of others’ either. Greeny is reportedly receiving $6.5 million to host.
Yet Greeny is just a host. Mike and Mike did well, but I don’t think anyone would laude him as dynamic. Or controversial. Or insightful. Or most importantly, creative. He’s as bland as Wheaties. Beadle and Rose bring some gravitas, but I anticipate they will be held back by the framework of the show.
The show is the show; it’s going to be SportsCenter with Greenberg’s takes. In the contemporary sports landscape, however, people don’t care about old highlights, and they don’t care about him. This show was a major investment – in him, in studio time and in the front face of ESPN for the future. It has the resources and backing of a major innovation that could have continued to propel ESPN to a dominant future.
Instead, its recycled approach with a respectable but not irreplaceable crew has created a product far from appointment viewing. ESPN suffered plenty of black eyes recently, and Greenberg and Co. will wear plenty of makeup, but this is a mistake that will shine through.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.