Monday, March 16, 2009
It's been a crazy year for ESPN, and no one has had a better view of it than their Ombudsman for the past year, Le Anne Schreiber. From the beginning of her "reign", Schreiber has dealt with thousands of complaints about coverage and announcers, and has addressed them with completely no bias. Her articles quickly became great topics of discussion here, and throughout the blogosphere.
Well her time at ESPN has come to an end, and she tried to sum up everything she's learned in her last article as the Ombudsman. Here are some of her thoughts on fans, how ratings play into programming and the all important "what needs to change"....
On Fans: "When a sports media empire repeatedly turns fans off some of sports' most talented players, both established and emerging, something is wrong. And yet the message from fans that I have found hardest to impress on ESPN's executives and talent is this: The predictable day-after-day dominance on ESPN of certain marquee teams and players is making a lot of fans both heartsick and cynical."Sorry for the long blockquote, but I definitely thought all of that was important. I don't think anyone has ever "gotten" the state of those frustrated with ESPN more than Schreiber, and ESPN would certainly benefit from keeping her on in some capacity. A new view, and new person in the role, is what makes the position of Ombudsman work. But if someone takes the job as seriously, and provides an unbiased view you can't get from the inside, they definitely deserve to be listened to.
On ESPN's mindset: "ESPN's postgame attitude seems to be: We have the footage and the crew there live, so why not make the most of it, whether or not the game warranted it? Fan attitude seems to be: We just saw that game or chose not to, and it's late, so please give us the other news of the day.
Sometimes, ESPN seems to forget that the loyal audience of its studio programming is a subset of those who drive up ratings for the marquee events, and that by appealing to the starstruck, they risk losing the committed sports fan, whose interest runs deeper."
On whether or not ESPN will listen/change: "Actually, over the long haul, I think the chances are pretty good. If you step back and take the long view, a perspective advanced years forces on me, you will realize ESPN did not become the phenomenal success it is by underestimating the intelligence of the sports fan. As someone who ran a sports department in the pre-ESPN era, I can tell you that the average fan is incomparably more informed about every aspect of what makes a sport tick than was once imaginable....
It is too late for ESPN to dial it back or dumb it down, too late to satisfy the savvy core audience it created with the thin gruel of sound bites, shouting heads and the celebrations of the obvious. If it wants to sustain its success, ESPN has no choice but to keep getting smarter. Its audience demands it."
In all fairness to the network, they have improved over the past year immensely. Hopefully some of that was due to the extremely good work put in by their Ombudsman over that span.
ESPN's excess root of fan frustration (ESPN)
(FYI- I'll be conducting an "exit interview" with Ms. Schreiber in the coming days, so stay tuned!)