If we ever sat back and thought about how much of our sports thinking is shaped by ESPN and its programming, it would be a little bit frightening.
The facts are, by and large, when people need sports news, they go to SportsCenter. When they want to get ready for a Saturday of college football, they watch College Gameday. When they think of sports documentaries, they now call them 30 for 30 (even when they're not).
And when ESPN does stuff that is infuriatingly self-gratifying (like last weekend's Trent Dilfer-Tim Tebow fluff piece on NFL Countdown), they are at their worst. But then they put together the Megacast for this past Monday's BCS Title Game, and ESPN is at their cutting edge best.
In case you missed it, here's the gist of the Megacast...
With multiple channels as part of its platform, ESPN decided to unleash the hounds of television hell on all other sports outlets for the night, and deploy its three primary channels on the BCS Title Game between Auburn and Florida State. The feeds consisted of the following:
ESPN: The main feed of the game, with Brent Musberger on play by play and Kirk Herbstreit on color analysis. Obviously, this is the channel that got the most viewers by far.
ESPN2: A split screen consisting of the main game feed taking up about two thirds of the screen with three smaller feeds down the right hand side, largely consisting of a rotating cast of characters ranging from hosts/journalists (Michael Smith, Jemele Hill) to former players (David Pollack, Tim Tebow) to former coaches (Lou Holtz) to current players (Johnny Football!) and current coaches (James Franklin). The style was very free flowing, open commentary, and for so many voices being available, they all did a pretty good job of not stepping on one another.
ESPNNews: A film room format with Tom Luginbill and Matt Millen essentially loosely mediating a panel that included coaches Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M), Paul Chryst (Pitt), and Steve Addazio (Boston College), along with Chris Spielman (former college/NFL linebacker and current ESPN analyst). The six of them watched the game on All-22 film and just commented as if they were all watching in a meeting room or in someone's living room. (Highlight of this format: when all the coaches called the Florida State fake punt right before it actually happened in the second quarter when the Seminoles were down 21-3, the turning point in the game. Pretty damn cool.)
The incremental bump in carrying the game on three channels as opposed to one was negligible, an additional 0.4 to take the total rating across the three channels to 15.7, which was the same as last season's one channel broadcast of Alabama's 42-14 blowout of the University of Notre Dame (proving that, above all else, the nation loves watching Notre Dame get its ass kicked).
The aesthetic bump, though, that the network got from carrying the game on three channels was significant, in my opinion. The multiple feed format was groundbreaking, and I found myself glued to the film room format for much of the second half, surprising because I'm far from a film junky or X-and-O nerd. I just found the interplay between the coaches to be educational and entertaining.
Obviously, resource-wise, it would be prohibitive (one would think) to do this multi-channel format all the time, but for big games, it absolutely works. That said, with my creative juices always flowing and with a handful of additional outlets available, I would have liked to have seen ESPN add a few more feeds for this year's BCS Title Game. 5. GAMBLECAST There are literally millions of people with hundreds of different bets on a big game like the BCS Title Game -- spread bets, money line bets, parlays, prop bets, unwashed futures bets, live wagering. It makes your head spin. So why not a channel that caters to the degenerates? You could have a prop bet tracker down the left hand side of the screen, tweets from prominent gambling outlets scrolling the bottom of the screen, and two articulate degenerates with thousands of dollars on various game and prop bets commenting on the game. The raw emotion of real money being on the line would be compelling even for non-gamblers to watch. (Honestly, this needs to happen for the Super Bowl -- two guys going ape shit over the length of the national anthem and the winner of the coin toss would be hilarious.)
4. JOHNNYCAST Quite frankly, I think ESPN wasted Johnny Manziel's talents on Monday night. Buried amidst ten other voices and sitting in a suit and tie in a studio is not how you deploy Johnny Football. Me, I would have set up a hot tub in back of the north end zone, and have Johnny smoking a cigar, mic'd up in the hot tub with the two skanks in the TMZ video, one on either side, Uncle Nate live tweeting, with the coup de gras -- Johnny announcing his intentions to go pro in the middle of the final drive so he could totally scoop Jameis WInston's heat in a WWE-style promo: "You may have been able to steal my trophy, but I will steal your moment, Jameis Winston!!" This would have killed.
3. FAT COACH CAST Watching Sumlin, Chryst, and Addazio do their thing was pretty cool, but the one thing they have in common is that they are (relatively speaking) pretty fit. I love fat people, and I really love fat coaches. The film room thing would have been more fun having, say, Charlie Weis, Mark Mangino, and Ralph Friedgen breaking down the game with a Golden Corral style buffet available at arm's length. (Prop bets on the first one to pass out in a tryptophan coma would be available.) Here's the catch -- starting at the beginning of the fourth quarter, none of the food would be replenished. Tell me the scrap over the last turkey leg wouldn't get a billion YouTube hits! Also, no utensils and no napkins. They will eat like big, filthy, obese animals.
2. SHEIK CAST You might have to carry this on one of the HBO channels, but I think the Iron Sheik commenting about anything is compelling. If you follow his Twitter feed, you know Sheikie Baby has thoughts on all sorts of different sports topics. For example:
The Johnny Football you suck the Tim Tebow Cheetos dick what kind of man you think you are?
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) January 7, 2014
WHAT THE FUCK THE CHICAGO YOU TRADE THE DENG FOR THAT COCKSUCKER GRASSHOPPER MIDGET BALLS ANDREW BYNUM?? HE WORSE THAN 5000 DEAD DOGS
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) January 7, 2014
The Green Bay cold as fuck but the Rodgers play with the heart. The SF good and the Kaepernick black or white I don't give a fuck he good.
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) January 5, 2014
He's also not afraid to call a spade a spade (WARNING: NSFW...likereally
1. PELLINI CAST (w/ firecracker kid from Boogie Nights) Finally, the only person more perpetually angry than the Iron Sheik is Nebraska head coach Bob Pellini....
So I think it would be fun to have a camera on Bo Pelini throughout the game, but under one condition -- Pelini must remain tied to a chair while a reasonable facsimile of the little Chinese kid from this scene inBoogie Nights
gets to light off firecrackers randomly throughout the game every few minutes:
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Oh, also, Pelini will be connected to an electroshock machine that goes off anytime his blood pressure rises over 120. We might see a man's head explode on live TV, and that to me is very cool.
So maybe next year, ESPN. If you need anymore ideas, I'll be right here.
Starting January 2, 2014, listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.