Monday, September 1, 2008

East Coast bias at ESPN?

A little over two weeks ago, ESPN ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber wrote a column talking about a very much talked about subject, whether or not ESPN has an east coast bias, primarily with baseball.

Let me first say, that ESPN should be praised for having an ombudsman. In the age where journalistic outlets are losing some influence to the blogosphere and ombudsmen across the country are getting dropped due to "cost cutting" as they say, it is good that ESPN still sees the importance of an ombudsman. And Schreiber is a good choice, a former New York Times sports editor who has covered sports for over 30 years.

Primarily, coverage of a few select teams seems to anger many fans, those around the Harbor among them. Teams like the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, Duke University basketball, the New England Patriots, etc. A lot of reaction was peaking last year after the ALDS when there was no talk of the ALCS on Sportscenter until the day before. All talk had been about the Yankees with Torre and A-Rod leaving, even though New York was out of the playoffs. Even now, writer Gene Wojciechowski once said on Around the Horn that the Yankees are "the most covered third place team ever."

Before I start breaking down the article, I realize a number of things. The above mentioned teams are normally competitive and coverage of them gets more ratings from people who love and/or hate them. TV is all about ratings, and ESPN is one of the highest rated cable networks. If they gave equal coverage all around, ratings would drop significantly. Most people outside of Kansas City don't care about the Royals; most people outside of Detroit don't care about the Lions. But, is it right to give a third-place team so much coverage even if it gets ratings? Let's go to Schreiber's article.

"On July 28, an hour-long rain delay during a Yankees-Red Sox game drew a significantly higher rating (2.45) than most hours of actual Sunday Night play between other teams. Over the past three seasons, the most highly rated matchup after Yankees-Red Sox has been Yankees-Mets."
Well, that can be explained a number of ways. First, they are featuring New York teams. New York City is the highest-populated city in America, so naturally any game with a New York team will get more ratings. Second, they are rivalry games. Rivalry games naturally get more ratings. This could eventually turn into ESPN covering more and more Yankee games, which would lose their "Worldwide Leader In Sports" status.

"It is hard to anticipate something like Tampa Bay, which has been stunning this year," said (senior vice president Len DeLuca), referring to the team's season-to-date lead over the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East. "But we have already had four of their games this year on Monday and Wednesday."
That's fair. Sports are all about predictions, and naturally they can be incorrect. Very few could have predicted the Rays big season this year, and since they can't even put 15,000 in the stands in Tampa Bay, there is no reason to think a Rays game would get good ratings, even now.

A team's projected and actual standing in division races is an important part of what determines ESPN's selections, but it is not the whole story -- nor does ESPN pretend it is. And fans who call for equity -- giving all 30 MLB teams anything close to equal airtime -- can forget about it.
I'm not sure who seriously argues that. ESPN doesn't pretend to care about all 30 teams, and they shouldn't, but caring more about a team that is likely to miss the playoffs then other teams clearly in the race or with better records isn't right.

There's plenty in the article, and I suggest people read it. It will give some good insight into ESPN. Really, television is all about ratings, and ESPN does a good job at that.

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