The line between news and entertainment will get even blurrier than it already is tonight when ESPN broadcasts LeBron James’ announcement about his basketball whereabouts for next season. The news could just as easily be delivered through a press release or 10-minute press conference, yet a whole hour of programming is devoted to it. What do you think is going to fill it up? More news?
This has led me to think about the ESPN brand as a whole, which will be hurt by this in the long run. Yes, ratings should be relatively high – at least more than the baseball game it might otherwise broadcast. But the fuzziness surrounding what the brand of ESPN– is it news, sports programming or entertainment? – is growing.
Those at ESPN would most likely point out that ESPN stands for Entertainment Sports Programming Network, which encompasses those streams. But what how does the viewer take it when those streams intermingle? Does it feel like the whole story is not being told? That only what is advantageous to all parties is being delivered?
Think of this: ESPN has contracts with many professional leagues (and college conferences), which means any reporting on those leagues affects its own financial standing. If an NFL player gets into criminal trouble or a reputation is shown to be a façade – Hello, Roethlisberger! – that affects the NFL brand and, therefore, the ESPN one as well.
I’m not suggesting that ESPN choose one or the other, but the mixing of them so explicitly will damage the ESPN brand in the long run. The mix has always been there (just watch Vitale do a Duke basketball game) but never so boldly. The James camp is even choosing the interviewer and the sponsors – and even where the money from the sponsors go. (Admittedly, to a good cause: The Boys and Girls Club of America.)
From now on, we will ask ourselves, “Is this real or just made up?”