The Worldwide Leader in Sports got one right Monday night, and they got one right in a big way. It has been years since I have been a regular viewer of the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, better known as ESPN. The problem I have long had with the network is that they have focused far too much attention to the entertainment part of their name, creating false storylines and propelling handpicked players to stardom, deserved or not.
It’s not like they need me to watch. Last week alone, ESPN had the top ten shows on cable television. Granted, six of them were football bowl games and the other four were studio shows for the given bowl games, but the trend still stands. The week before, ESPN held seven of the top 10 rankings.
According to this article from Deadspin back in July, ESPN’s ratings have been dropping, and dropping at an alarming rate for executives in Bristol, the home for their headquarters. So what do you do when ratings begin to drop? Get creative.
On Monday night, with the broadcasting rights to the college football National Championship game, ESPN did something that was so brilliant, the game to determine this season’s champion almost became a subplot. In fact, it likely would have been if it wasn’t for a second half comeback by Florida State, and a touchdown in the final half minute of the game to win it.
The best part about the touchdown was the multitude of ways the nation was watching it. ESPN used their heavyweight broadcasting power to show the game on their numerous networks, all having their own niche.
On ESPN, we got the regular game feed. The traditional camera angles paired with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit calling the action, anyone who just wanted to enjoy the game was able to watch it just like they would any other game.
On ESPN2, they had “BCS Title Talk”, which featured a mix of analysts, coaches, players, and celebrities. Among them were Tim Tebow, who was recently hired by ESPN, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, signer John Legend, and rapper Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion depending on how much you’re into gimmicks).
The real gem came on ESPNews, where they brought you inside the coaches room to break down film as it happened. It provided different camera angles than the ones you saw on ESPN, and had current college football coaches breaking down the plays. The coaches included Boston College’s Steve Addazaio, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, and Pittsburgh’s Paul Chryst. The coaches were spot on almost the entire night, including when they all called a fake punt just moments before it happened.
ESPN 3 had the radio broadcasts from each of the two teams. It included the radio calls from Auburn and Florida State, as well as the marching bands performances at halftime. It is an idea that Turner Sports has announced they will look to feature during coverage of their NCAA March Madness tournament.
ESPN Classic had a commentary free broadcast, featuring 72 microphones around the stadium to give the “at-the-game” feel. USA Today reported that this was about 30 microphones more than is featured during a normal broadcast.
The reviews were overwhelmingly in support of ESPN’s coverage, both on Twitter and in articles Tuesday. For the capabilities of a network like ESPN, it was finally nice to see them think outside the box for once. With the personalities of the average viewer changing, it is refreshing to see someone adapt to the advanced technology available in broadcasting. Hopefully, it wasn’t just a one night experiment.