Who’s Going to Challenge the Worldwide Leader?

Because of a two-week old baby, I’ve found myself awake at every conceivable hour during the football season’s peak and baseball’s culmination. As a result, I’ve increased my usual intake of sports radio. (While my wife has miraculously become a football fan since moving to Chicago a few years ago, she can’t abide sports talk radio, forcing me to access my audio succor through headphones.) My standby overnight show has become ESPN Radio’s AllNight.  Jason Smith, and his replacement host Michael Salk, ask informed questions of a roster of guests derived from the more intellectual end of the ESPN stable: Keith Law, Jayson Stark and Jerry Crasnick. (These are the types of guests who prefer facts over phony sports constructs like  “momentum,” “proven closers,” and “clutch.”)

These voices whispering to me in my semi-conscious state may explain why I’ve been dreaming about ESPN, and pondering its domination of sports journalism in the US– if not, as it humbly asserts, worldwide. Is there another media organization with a similar stranglehold over a single topic? (Jeff Jarvis suggested that “it could happen in business,” but that would require some sort of a CNBC/WSJ/CNN Money merger.)

Frank Deford worried recently about the impact ESPN’s “omnipotence” has on its journalism.

Where is ESPN’s competition? It could come from the leagues and athletes it covers. We didn’t need reporters to fill us in on the friendly jockeying Cincinnati Bengal @OGOchoCinco instigated with assorted Chicago Bears . (Why are reporters unwilling to link to the twitter chatter they summarize?) A combination of sports leagues reporting on themselves over their own networks, athletes, owners and executives who speak directly to fans via blogs, social networks and iPhone applications,  and code that converts stats into narrative pose a greater threat to the Bristol juggernaut than any traditional sports network. (Medill’s Rich Gordon tells worried journalists ‘If your game story CAN be generated by a computer, at some point itWILL be generated by a computer.”)

ESPN miscellany:


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