There’s a phenomenon in media where being consistently wrong—or, technically speaking, “bad at your job”—can make you popular and successful because dummies will think you’re great and nondummies who can’t help themselves will tune in/click to see how wrong you are. This strategy is one that ESPN has exploited to $$$ effect with commentators like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, who make a ton of money doing a show (First Take) on which they always disagree with each other and are somehow both always wrong (even about the details of their own lives).
Despite embracing the “bad at your job” approach to predicting and analyzing sports outcomes, however, ESPN has generally at least tried to be good at broadcasting actual sports events. Not so anymore: On Tuesday night, the Worldwide Leader showed an entire Ohio State–Michigan basketball game using floor-level cameras from which it was impossible to see any action on the far side of the court. Even better, near-side plays were often completely obscured by referees’ butts.
The whole game was like this. The whole game! On purpose!
An ESPN spokeswoman defended the approach in an email to the Detroit News:
The “floor seat” camera angle during (Tuesday’s) “Super Tuesday” Michigan-Ohio State game was a new and creative way to show the athleticism and speed of the talented players of the Big Ten Conference by giving viewers different access to the game. We will review all feedback after the game and continue to learn and provide fans with the best possible viewing experience.
ESPN was built on trying new things and taking risks, and tonight is just another example of that.
What’s telling about this email is that it defends the approach on the basis of what ESPN is (allegedly) known for, as if the game was broadcast for fans of ESPN rather than fans of college basketball. This egocentrism was also demonstrated by color analyst Dan Dakich, who used most of the last five or so minutes of the broadcast to praise the ingenuity and brilliance of the camera angle instead of talking about what the Ohio State and Michigan players were doing in front of him. You, the viewer, thought you were turning on the TV to watch a basketball game. Little did you know that you were actually watching a meta-demonstration of what “ESPN was built on”!
Sports fandom: Still an ongoing process of having your favorite things abused and exploited by marketers who are trying to build some personal reputation or national brand that has nothing to do with the reason you watch sports. Also, guess what’s playing on mute on my TV right now? ESPN! I’m stupid. What’s on next?