• Jeff Fox: Do we really need more sports on TV?

  • We are now living in the year 34 Anno ESPN, as good a measure as we have of our era of specialization, excess and navel gazing.

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  • We are now living in the year 34 Anno ESPN, as good a measure as we have of our era of specialization, excess and navel gazing.
    I can remember when ESPN was new. For those of us who grew up on the grainy, black-and-white “Game of the Week” – often about the only televised baseball there was – this was great. Now it be would be sports around the clock.
    Yeah, in the early ’80s we also thought MTV would be 24/7 rock ’n’ roll. We were young, and we foolishly believed such promises.
    But we do have lots of games. March is only tolerable because college basketball comes to a conclusion with a few dozen tournaments and an estimated 4.3 million games, many of them tense and thrilling.
    Entire college conferences have been formed based on the idea that ESPN would not just show a key conference matchup on Saturday but also that pivotal Tuesday night contest between the sixth and eighth best teams in the conference. In other words, a game of interest to three sets of people – the fans of one school, the fans of the other school and, third, people who pay way too attention to college basketball generally. In cable TV, that’s enough to make a market.
    But they are killing the golden goose. A good college basketball game can be played in a tight one hour and 40 minutes, but now every game stretches out to two hours, which fits more neatly with the way TV divides the clock and reduces the fan’s ability to escape the couch between games. There are way too many timeouts for ads, way too many timeouts at the discretion of coaches who don’t trust their players to dribble and pass 60 feet without explicit instruction.
    Mostly, however, that third audience group – generally callow young men who occasionally look up from their video games to check the sports scene – is the reason we have hour after hour of SportsCenter, and for many this constitutes all the “news” they might get in a day. Or a week.
    It’s going to get worse. Fox Sports is launching Fox Sports 1 later this year, aiming to give ESPN a run for its very large piles of money.
    If this meant more sports viewed by more humans, I’d be OK with that, though I would meekly suggest that some citizens from time to time also need to pay a little attention to the dramas in Washington and elsewhere. Those have meaning, cost us billions and affect the future of the country. Sorry, no made or missed free throw will ever do that.
    But I’m not convinced this will mean more actual sports. I’m sure we’ll have lots more talk about sports. We’ll probably have more talk about fantasy sports, which is yet another step removed from reality. Heck, even ESPN has run out of sports, resorting to poker at odd hours. Knowing Fox, they’ll try to convince us all that we like soccer.
    Page 2 of 2 - Is it possible that the world’s supply of sports is actually finite, even as the world’s supply of babbling is not? Is it possible that there’s such a thing as too much? I’d like to think so, but the latest line suggests not betting that way.
    Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @Jeff_Fox.

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