ESPN, Hamels and the Home Run Derby—Consume Your Empty Calories

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Anderson Cooper just came out of the closet—TheDailyBeast.com.

It’s no issue to me one way or the other.

If he worked for ESPN he probably would’ve done it as a part of the promotional carpetbombing for the All-Star Home Run Derby (brought to you by State Farm).

You’re being fed empty calories of the mind.

Only the people that started ESPN know if their initial intent over 30 years ago was to create a go-to place for sports information. They were visionaries in the explosion of cable TV at a time when wide swaths of the country and world didn’t have it and didn’t know what it was.

There’s a possibility that they were hoping to make a load of money with the endeavor and get out.

It’s doubtful that they were looking that far ahead, but it’s possible.

Of course that’s led to sports content based on public demand that has little-to-nothing to do with sports news.

The network has developed into a cash machine and a caricature of what a sports network that focuses on sports should be. It’s an embarrassing comedy skit. And it’s real.

Presumably it was inevitable when corporate fealty supersedes evenhanded information and analysis.

During last night’s Mets-Dodgers game the inundation of marketing for the insipid Home Run Derby was such that there was a mention of it at every possible opening. Anyone who simply wanted to watch the game was a captive audience and, like something out of A Clockwork Orange, there was no alternative but to watch.

I could almost see the copy placed in front of the broadcasters and hear the control room telling them to talk about the Home Run Derby. Repeatedly there were discussions of this ridiculous and boring display as if we’re supposed to invest ourselves in it from now until it takes place and then eagerly wait until next year to do it all over again.

The new twist is that we’re back in the schoolyard waiting to see who the cool kids select. Who will team captains Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp pick?

Who cares?

ESPN constantly referred to it; the people in the booth Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Terry Francona along with the sideline reporter Buster Olney relentlessly talked about and dissected it as if they really cared about it and weren’t doing what they were told by the network. There were polls for the fans and other interactive gimmicks to generate webhits, viewers, texting fees and other money-accumulating tactics.

Give MLB and ESPN credit for turning the days before the All-Star Game—days that were generally languid affairs—into a way to make a lot of money. Taking their cue from the NFL in terms of gouging fans with junk they don’t need, it’s the American way.

But don’t think for a second that ESPN is still a sports-centric entity. They want money and don’t care how they get it. In the ESPN era, the line between athletes and media is non-existent. Everything is about content designed to generate cash. That’s why you see stories about Tim Tebow and, if you’re paying attention, wonder why there’s a story about Tebow in the middle of the summer when there’s nothing happening with him or the Jets. That’s why there will be rampant discussion of Bryce Harper or Tiger Woods whether they’re doing something worth talking about.

And then there are the trending topics based on what people are searching for through their websearch engines.

Even though the Phillies are performing their due diligence and preparing for the possibility of putting Cole Hamels on the market, there will be endless stories of the “rumors” of Hamels’s potential destinations if and when he’s traded.

In reality, the Phillies are not going to trade Hamels until July 30-31st if they trade him at all. They’re going to wait until then to see where they are in the standings and how they’re playing. They’ll gauge the market, their chances for a playoff run and how Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are coming back from injuries. The Phillies are just as likely to be buyers at the deadline looking for bullpen help, another starter and a bat as they are to trade Hamels.

The guess here is that if the Phillies are within single digits of a playoff spot, they’ll hold onto their players and be buyers. If they’re facing a double-digit deficit and their veteran players aren’t performing, they’ll sell.

The ambiguity gives the websites—ESPN, MLB Trade Rumors, MLB.com and the team websites—time to blast their webhits up and spur the conversation of what “might” happen. With the increased webhits go increased advertising dollars.

As for the argument that they’re giving the people what they want, if the population is inundated with coverage of an event, a segment of that population is going to purchase it or pay attention to it. Social media like Twitter and Facebook increase the demand regardless of accuracy. That’s why you’ll see as many as five different “rumors” from five different outlets all in one article or blog posting and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous some of them are or that they’re coming from nowhere with imagined “sources” as their catalyst.

It’s circular. It’s an infomercial that they hide with the shady, “It’s what the people are asking for.” But if they’re hypnotizing the viewers into asking for it by hammering them over the head, are they asking for it or are they being tricked?

It’s this type of thing that can drive a person mad.

The key is that the person is still paying attention.

Load up on the brain-sugar. It’s not adding anything of value, but so what? It will satiate your hunger. Never mind if it makes your head fat. You don’t care and, as a result, nor do those feeding you.

Eat up!

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