A Look Inside An ESPN Focus Group On The New Sports Center Format

Monday, November 24, 2008

Having moles in and around ESPN is always an interesting thing. A lot of the time you get accounts of who ate what at lunch that day, but every once in awhile you get a great email account of interesting day to day goings on. Well, recently I received one of those emails from a person who was involved in an ESPN Focus Group recently and while some of the questions asked aren't a surprise, some of the results/answers were. But first here is a little background from our focus grouper and a quick rundown of the questions....

"My group in particular included about 12 guys (no women) aged between 18 and 25. There were two african americans, and the rest were white. Everyone was paid $170 for participation. We were required to complete a homework assignment (keep a SportsCenter journal for two weeks before the focus group.)"


For your upcoming focus group at (INSERT FACILITY NAME) at (INSERT TIME) we have a homework assignment for you.

The Assignment:
1. Watch SportsCenter on ESPN over the weekdays between 9am and 3pm.
a. Watch it critically during this time for at least 3 total hours or more. (*It is very important that you watch SportsCenter between the 9am and 3pm hours)
b. As you watch SportsCenter, take some notes on what you like/dislike about the show at those specific hours
c. Try your best to focus on the show, format, anchors …and not the sports content
d. Recording the show is allowed if it helps with note-taking
2. Ask yourself the following question:
“If SportsCenter at the 9am-3pm hours was a person, what type of person would you describe him/her as?”
Descriptions ‘could’ contain the following:
i. What type of car would it drive?
ii. What ‘other shows’ would it be friends with?
iii. What type of clothes would it wear?
iv. What music would be on its iPod?
v. What age would it be?
vi. What type of activities would it do in its ‘free time?’
3. Find 5 or more images from magazines, newspapers, or the Internet that helps you describe the type of person it would be
4. Take 2 regular size sheets of paper and tape them together to make 1 large sheet
5. Glue, tape, or staple your images on the 1 large sheet in whatever arrangement you see fit to show this person
6. Then put your name on your notes and your collage and bring them both to your focus group to turn in!

*The most expressive and vivid collages will be considered for a Best Buy© gift certificate
Just weird questions, right? I guess that's what focus groups are for, to try and find new and interesting information out there, but to ask what music it would have on it's Ipod? And collages?!?! Is this preschool? That is just plain strange, but I guess for $170, and a chance at a Best Buy gift card, I'd give it a shot. Anyway, I know you're curious as to the results, so here is our correspondent's assessment of what went on and namely which anchors the group liked and disliked....
Finally, the anchors were discussed. We were shown headshots of the following SportsCenter anchors, and tested to see how many our group could identify. We were asked whether they were perceived as "Old or New" and "Triple-A, Pro, or All-Star."

John Anderson - group couldn't think of his name - "Old" - "Pro"
Josh Elliot - was identified - "New" - "worst SportsCenter anchor ever"
Neil Everett - group couldn't think of his name - "Old" - "Pro"
Robert Flores - group couldn't think of his name... one person thought he was Josh Elliot - "New" - "Triple-A"
Brian Kenny - group couldn't think of his name - "Old" - "Pro" (a couple people didn't like him)
Steve Levy - group couldn't think of his name - "Old" - "All Star"
Kenny Mayne - was identified - "Old" - "All Star" (some said Hall of Fame)
Chris McKendry - was identified - "New" - "Triple-A"
Sage Steele - was identified - "New" - "Triple-A"
Hannah Storm - was identified - "New" - "All-Star"
Scott Van Pelt - was identified - "New" - "All-Star"

Then the proctor asked: If we were the producers of the show, which anchors would we keep, and which we would fire? The group voted unanimously to fire Josh Elliot. Nearly everyone said to fire Chris McKendry. Some people said to fire Robert Flores. Nobody else got the axe. The group's favorite, by far, was Hannah Storm. Several people said they wanted to see more of her. One person asked if he could keep her headshot photo. Steve Levy, Kenny Mayne, and Scott Van Pelt were the group's other favorites.

Next, they asked aesthetic questions about the show. For example, they asked if the group liked when the anchors were filmed standing up, instead of sitting at the desk. The group was indifferent about that. The group didn't like the new machine sounds played during the SportsCenter cut scenes... several participants said they preferred the way SportsCenter used to play its theme music more often.
Obviously our insider wants to stay Anonymous, but I'd like to thank him for giving us such a detailed account. A few thoughts....Kenny Mayne is a HOFer? Really??? The guy is humorous, but I didn't think people thought of him as such a pro. Also, hearing that people don't like Josh Elliott, while not the way I feel, isn't really surprising. In focus groups, men tend to be negative towards attractive males (I'm comfortable in my sexuality to say Elliott is a handsome man) and extremely responsive to attractive females (i.e.- Hannah Storm) As far as the rest of the group's findings, I can't really disagree with them.

Thanks again to our focus group attendee, and it'll be interesting to see if they make any changes to the format in light of these results. I wouldn't count on it, but anything is possible. As far as you the reader, you know ESPN is reading, so what would you change about the show and what do you think it would have on its Ipod?


less of Neil Everett. Of the anchors that were discussed, he's my least favorite and brings too much attention to himself. There needs to be more Bob Ley anchors and less "Look at Me" anchors.

Anonymous said...
Nov 24, 2008, 2:55:00 PM  

Disappointed Jon Anderson didn't get better reviews. Anderson and Van Pelt always hold my attention, without being overpowering. Plus, they have the "Timmah!" routine!

rhett said...
Nov 24, 2008, 3:02:00 PM  

Some people said to fire Robert Flores.

Wait for a misplaced F-Bomb. He'll fire himself.

When will the "AA Commenters' Focus Group" convene, AA? I need to know how far behind Swearing Man & AA Hates ESPN I am.

Nov 24, 2008, 3:05:00 PM  

With the new live 9a-3p SportsCenters, I know they need to keep it from being exact repeats, but I do hate it when the exact same things are repeated during the "SportsCenter Updates" (which are usually every 20mins or so). New news is rarely revealed there, so it's not really an update.

And also, they shouldn't tease things that are gonna be on "in the next three hours". How many people are gonna watch the whole thing? Sure they'll do different analysis each hour, but I don't see the show as one to be watched for a long time. I enjoyed the crispness of the late night SC reruns in the morn since it wasn't evolving every edition. Classic highlights, some analysis, and news of the previous day. Now, I'm forced to wade thru the various elements to catch up on the actual results. If I had it, I'd could watch ESPNEWS for that, but in the day, my choices are SC, First Take, or internet. At least AA keeps me informed on the good stuff!

mtjaws said...
Nov 24, 2008, 3:48:00 PM  

this new sports center format is cluttered and annoying. I liked, as the previous guy said, the crispness of the previous hourly runs. I could get live updates on the bottom bar, or on first take thank you.

Anonymous said...
Nov 24, 2008, 3:56:00 PM  

On the ESPN iPod: 100% Hootie and the Blowfish

Anonymous said...
Nov 24, 2008, 3:59:00 PM  

Dislike the new format, and the overall turn towards PTI-esque analysis. If I want to two or more talking heads to give analysis I will watch PTI, Around the Horn, or NFL Live/Baseball Tonight/NBA Fastbreak...etc. Sportscenter should get back to its roots. One hour of highlights and small snippets of post-game comments.

Scott Van Pelt is the best of the bunch.

Jeff said...
Nov 24, 2008, 4:13:00 PM  

Thanks Rick James. I, too, would like to volunteer for the AA focus group.

AA Hates ESPN said...
Nov 24, 2008, 4:29:00 PM  

AA Hates ESPN - "Old", "Triple-A" and bumped down to "Single-A" when commenting about grammar.

shawn kemp said...
Nov 24, 2008, 4:55:00 PM  

I almost pissed my pants reading that post...what would SportsCenter have on its iPod?

How the hell could that possibly help SportsCenter become a better show? How would someone determine that? That might be the funniest thing I've ever read on this site. Kudos ESPN!

Sean O said...
Nov 24, 2008, 6:16:00 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nov 24, 2008, 10:10:00 PM  

Jesus Christ. And we wonder why our economy is in the crapper. Either the average 19-25 year old male actually belongs in kindergarten, or executives running ESPN (more likely!) are utter morons to ask questions like the Ipod one or "What car would the 9-3 Sportscenter drive?"

I worry, too, that ESPN might seriously be basing their decisions on the opinions of these 19-25 year old men who have so much time on their hands (in the middle of the fall semester, if they actually are in college) that they can watch so many hours of this daytime Sportscenter in one week. No wonder the network is practically unwatchable these days (from the graybearded mind of a 29-year-old).

Leviathan said...
Nov 24, 2008, 10:15:00 PM  

Kenny Mayne blows...he tries to hard..and his straight-faced delivery is a farce

questionmark said...
Nov 24, 2008, 10:24:00 PM  

I need to know how far behind Swearing Man & AA Hates ESPN I am.

I guess this statement is true.

Nov 24, 2008, 10:39:00 PM  

Leviathan, I fit into that group of "19-25 year old men who have so much time on their hands" and I find their questions quite ridiculous. Nowadays, I watch ESPN mainly to poke fun at the things said by their announcers/analysts and the silliness of their coverage.

Goose said...
Nov 25, 2008, 12:15:00 AM  

I live in Germany, thus I have limited access to sportscenter. And although I do know Kenny Mayne, Scott van Pelt or Hannah Storm, I've never heard of this Josh Elliot guy. So I made a Google Image Search to find out he was a gay porn star. Isn't that he reason why most men dislike him? Do they envy his huge member?

Vintage Paul Breitner said...
Nov 25, 2008, 9:09:00 AM  

*the reason

Vintage Paul Breitner said...
Nov 25, 2008, 9:11:00 AM  

It's obvious what they are doing. The morning SportsCenter is an gilt-edged ratings disaster. That's a well-known fact in the industry. They're focus-grouping the old overnight anchors along with the current dayside anchors to see if they should return to the the taped re-airs of SportsCenter, which were much better anchored, with much better chemistry, less contrived bits, and just pure MORE of what made this show Americanae before they started f'ing with it. I imagine there is a posse of heavily perspiring corner offices scrambling to justify what must be an extraordinary expense of going live from 9a to 3pm (remember they were also going to live from 6a to 9a....my GOD what a mistake that would have been, given the current results). Can you imagine how the link to those focus group results are being shared among the anchors?

Anonymous said...
Nov 25, 2008, 9:22:00 AM  

Totally agree on being disappointed more people don't love the Anderson + Van Pelt tandem - I think they're the best.

Elliot is fine on TV, but only fine. I suspect you're right that he's the kind of guy most 19-25s (I'm an educated 26) would consider a douchebag. It's kind of the Jesse Palmer factor.

I confess, I've never gotten the Kenny Mayne thing. He's funny, I guess, but I just don't get why he has such a following.

I like Sage Steele, though.

ben said...
Nov 25, 2008, 12:03:00 PM  

I used to hate Niel Everett for some reason, now I think he's very good.

Van Pelt and Kenny are funny and that's all that matters.

I can't stand Oberman but the way he and Dan Patrick did highlights were hilarious.

That's the bottom line, be funny.

and where's Nick Bakay?

and Hannah FTW

Anonymous said...
Nov 25, 2008, 4:52:00 PM  

Nick Bakay sleeps with the fishes.

Anonymous said...
Nov 25, 2008, 5:02:00 PM  

Car: '94 Corvette; was cool at one time, driver is probably a tool
Clothes: Ralph Lauren golf shirt; expensive, looks nice, not much substance

Hannah is extremely good and also hot. They don't show her enough. SVP/Everett/Anderson/Levy are all first-class.

Josh Elliot is the guy in the pink golf shirt making snarky comments and drinking a Heineken at the company picnic. Go away geek.

Kenny Mayne is the guy driving the old red corvette; dude, give it up. Your schtick is as old as rumblin' bumblin' stumblin'. Old guys (like me) roll their eyes and I'd imagine young guys think he is a strange unfunny dork... like someone's dad at a party doing keg-stands.. it's worth a chuckle but ultimately embarassing.

Anonymous said...
Nov 26, 2008, 2:06:00 AM  

I actually like Jay Harris. Of course attractive females like Hannah Storm are always a plus as well. With that said, Hannah should try eating red meat every now and then.

Brad James said...
Nov 26, 2008, 1:45:00 PM  

Texas vs. Texas Tech game announcers Chris Fowler, Jesse Palmer, Craig James and Erin Andrews should leave politics and references to the President-elect's opinions out of their commentary. The current controversy surrounding the manner in which the BCS selects a national champion is a hot topic and everyone is entitled to their personal opinion. But when the announcers begin to interject their criticism of the President-elect's personal view of the flaws in the current system, ESPN becomes a cheapened network. Stick to football where their IQ can remain comfortably embedded. The public could care less of their political biases and a football game is not the venue people gather to listen to whiners whose candidate loss the election.

Ken said...
Nov 28, 2008, 1:03:00 AM  

let's get real, ESPN's iPod is filled with whatever music disney wanted them to shove down our throats.

that's my least favorite part of sports center and why i haven't watched a whole episode in years. the fact that its a poorly hidden advertising machine. everything has a tag on it to make money now the "flomax performer of the game" or the "coors/miller/bud lite 6 pack of ice cold blue (stupid) football questions", cut that out and i'd be much more likely to watch.

on a related point, i hate when they tell me about sports that they want me to watch for their own ratings. not that that isn't all the time (what2watch4 on espn), but its ridiculous when (maybe 2 years ago) they started reporting on arena league football because espn bought the league. i want to know about the sports i care about, not the sports you want me to care about.

also, i hate their big market bias, it comes through the worst in October with 3 sports in full swing, you get to hear about the red sox and then the yankees and then the patriots and then the steelers and then the cavs and then the lakers. its absurd, i know they only have 60 minutes, but when i turn on a monday sports center, and down their story lineup are 3 freaking cowboys pieces (none of which are the game the played yesterday) it makes me wonder why i've turned this on in the first place.

obviously, these things aren't changing, they're in place for reasons that are associated with money, either drawing in big markets, making money off promos, or leading people to watch their other programming. but that doesn't change the fact that i'll switch off sports center to watch a more sports-highlight filled show like fox sports version, even if the reasons i like sportscenter aren't there (funny/crisp anchors, well put together highlight packages). i'll take the loss just to watch 4 additional segments of college basketball/college football/small market nba and nfl while the rest of the nation psychoanalyzes TO's latest thinly veiled comment about brad johnson, 3 times.

Ryan said...
Nov 28, 2008, 10:30:00 AM  

oh, and i hope everyone had a happy thanksgiving

Ryan said...
Nov 28, 2008, 10:30:00 AM  

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