I am an ESPN fiend. I will watch it throughout the weekend. I will watch it while reading a case during the weekdays. I will watch it while eating dinner with friends at a restaurant, by using a quick look-away technique I’ve perfected where I can have a conversation, eat my food, and watch ESPN all in one motion. This is the kind of dedication that Harvard Business School expects out of all of us.
However, last year, I started to get somewhat disappointed with what ESPN was offering. Did they not understand my customer demands? Were they testing my consumer loyalty by targeting other customers? Had they not taken a marketing course led by Gail McGovern? I came to all these questions as I was watching the World’s Strongest Man for the 59th time and then flipping to ESPN2 to see some outdoor event where two men in camouflage with a muffled voice, attempt to shoot down a deer. I also wondered why these shows had to be as egregiously long as the FRC final. I had lost hope in my ESPN in providing me the quality sports broadcasting that I deserved…..
Then, this year, like all great champions, ESPN came back stronger than ever, and as such, I feel obligated to comment on a few things I noticed near the end of 2002.
(1) Lebron James: Know the name. Respect it. And learn to love it because it’s going to be all over the place in nine months when James attempts to live up to his hype as the greatest basketball player to ever lace them up. I was extremely amused by the first ever high school basketball game televised on national TV back in December because of Mr. James. I will admit that James looked good at 6’8 275 lbs dominating short high school kids. However, a few questions I had for those that watched. First, who exactly was that short, chubby kid on James’ team? At 6’1 300 lbs, he looked like the inner-city version of Chubby from Teen Wolf. Second, when the broadcasters made a comment on James’ mom who was cheering in the stands being a bit over 30 years old, I’m sure everyone at home started taking out their calculators. Third, so there aren’t supposed to be monetary incentives given to high school and college players, eh? I guess I should think the best when James has an arm-band with LJ inscribed on it, his own posse that protects him after games and a new SUV at home…..
(2) NBA Basketball: It is awesome to see NBA games on TV all the time now. I remember back in the day when you had to wait till the weekend and hope that NBC would televise a decent game to watch. I am proud that ESPN stepped up to challenge and resumed its role in serving its loyal clientele. However, I did have two quick observations about ESPN first venture into NBA basketball. First, Bill Walton must have a magical angel looking after him because there’s no way he should be a lead broadcaster. Having to hear Walton talk about “competitive greatness” and shouting at big men to “take it up strong” is only mitigated by the other option of listening to the biggest “Homer” in history, Tommy Heinsohn, the local broadcaster for the Celtics. Second, as big as a Michael Jordan fan that I am, please ESPN, no more Wizards’ broadcasts. I can’t bear to watch Jordan go 2 for 10 with 4 points and then seeing his counterpart Jerry Stackhouse go 7 for 30. It really is too painful. I’d rather go back and re-read my Stonehaven case again.
And so there’s my ode to ESPN and its comeback to greatness ala Oglivy and Mather, Callaway Golf, and Goodyear. Like all great B cases, who knows where the next growth areas for ESPN lie? Hold on…let me turn on the TV for a second and see what’s on…. it’s cycling on ESPN….no problem, let’s change quickly to see…..and it’s Bodyshaping on ESPN2….last try…and it’s a ESPN Classic repeat of the 1985 Mayflower Kennel Dog Show….well, I was supposed to start reading that Finance case.