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What if ESPN failed? What's the sporting landscape like today?

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by BYH, Feb 12, 2007.

  1. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    Thinking about this as I watch the 30,000th SportsCenter. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Getty never buys a stake in ESPN in the early days, or that America doesn't take to a network that mostly shows badminton and Australian Rules Football, and ESPN never moves beyond cult status before it quietly disappears in 1982.

    What would the last quarter century have been like without ESPN? What sports would not be as popular without ESPN's coverage? What superstar athletes would not be as popular without ESPN's coverage? Would we still be a sporting culture obsessed with immediate highlights and analysis? If the answer is yes, would we have found something to satiate that hunger?

    We hear so much about the ESPN-ization of sports, how it glorfies the individual over the team. Would we still be griping over that? Or is that a good ol' days argument that's made every generation?

    How would local TV sportscasts be affected? Today, they are on the verge of extinction in many markets. Would they be more relevant without ESPN?

    And speaking of relevancy, how would the failure of ESPN have affected print journalism? Would there be more space in newspapers today? Would there still be a Sport or an Inside Sports or The Sporting News? Would people still rely on the written word as their primary source of information on their favorite teams and sports?

    And how different would the industry be without the ability to raise one's profile via ESPN's properties?

  2. Oz

    Oz Well-Known Member

    I know we would have seen Charlie Steiner laughing about Carl Lewis' national anthem a zillion times less.
  3. Excellent thread topic, BYH.

    Regarding print journalism -- It would have happened sooner or later. If not ESPN, something else would have some along in this 24-hour news cycle-era to provide around-the-clock sports, and then that entity would have blown up, taken away print journalists, etc. Blame CNN in that regard.
  4. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Hell, let's throw MTV into this discussion, too. If ESPN falters in 1982, does MTV, which launched in August 1981, still make the impact that it does? If MTV is still a minor player, you likely don't have Run DMC hooking up with Aerosmith and pushing hip-hop into the mainstream. What an impact that's had on sports in the last two decades. Look at Michigan's Fab Five, and how their style (playing, clothing) altered the course of sports history.

    Without ESPN, I still think sports runs a similar course as it did through about 1992 or so. It's been in the last decade-plus where you would have seen sports grow at a slower pace if ESPN hadn't been around. I don't think newspapers would have been more or less relevant, I don't think local TV would have been any stronger now, if not for ESPN. The popularity of the PC (1980s) and the Internet (late 1990s) would have pushed those two down just as it has regardless.

    Like Ellis said, if not ESPN ... then something else.

    Very interesting topic, though.
  5. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    I honestly thought about MTV too as well in this. I think MTV was closer to going bellyup than ESPN. I could be wrong, but it seemed to me that MTV was on shakier ground in the mid-to-late '80s than ESPN, which got the NFL in 1987 and hasn't looked back.
  6. pallister

    pallister Guest

    It's too bad MTV caught on.
  7. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    The Fab Five didn't alter shit.

    Michael Jordan was wearing baggy shorts and shaving his head while they were all in junior high school.

    Julius Erving was running and dunking 20 years before. Tommie Smith and Lee Carlos wore black socks in the 1968 Olympics.

    Bill Russell was an assertive, confrontational black superstar 30 years earlier.
  8. Exactly. And MJ started shaving his head because he was losing his hair, not as a fashion statement.
  9. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    Compare them to shorts from five years earlier. 6-8 inches lower.
  10. Claws for Concern

    Claws for Concern Active Member

    No Chris Berman. Damn, for that alone ESPN failing would have been a good thing.

    Back, Back, Back to your very good thread topic ...

    Sports might still be about the actual game, not about how many CBS, Fox, etc. actors can possibly show up at a World Series or Super Bowl.

    Sure, if it wasn't ESPN doing this, something else would have taken its place. I also think that the "something else" would be as overexposed as ESPN is right now because marketing/PR is what sells anything in this era.

    As for the written word, if ESPN wasn't with us, I'd hope that people would still be more interested in reading books, newspapers and magazines. Of course, the computer has changed that as much as TV and channels like ESPN and MTV and 24-hour news channels.
  11. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    Didn't SI have the same idea, a 24-hour sports channel, but shot it down because they didn't think it would work?
    It may not have been a national channel at first, but I think you would have seen some hugely popular regional nets in the early to mid-80s, that would have turned into a national thing down the line. Probably a Turner product or maybe something HBO would have done as a pay channel. Maybe WOR or KTLA, a superstation that only carried one team, then made the switch to more regional/national coverage.
    The real key was cable becoming more popular. As it was added to homes, people wanted more channels and sports is cheap to produce and televise.
    I still think people rely on the written word *cough* gambling lines *cough*
    Interesting topic, but I think the unspoken reason behind ESPN's success was its impact on gambling. I'd bet *pun alert* that Vegas's gambling haul has increased by a huge amount since the early 80s, to coincide with the rise of coverage.
  12. I believe SI was offered a chance to purchase a majority share of ESPN, but passed.
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