After a series of high-profile missteps, ESPN insiders are worried that the network’s mission of “serving sports fans,” is becoming hard to believe.
Over the last few weeks, three incidents befell ESPN that sent network executives scrambling to recover from the public relations embarrassments which caused so much “angst” inside the cable sports network, according to Sports Business Journal.
SBJ revisited the debacle of moving an Asian sportscaster from a college game in Virginia because he had the same name as a long-dead Confederate general. The Journal also noted the poor performance of young Sergio Dipp on “Monday Night Football.” Then, finally, there was the mess with SportsCenter Jemele Hill and the slap on the wrist she received for calling President Trump a “white supremacist.” These incidents amounted to a major loss of face for the network, publicly. While stoking fears among ESPN employees, privately, that the network had strayed from its primary purpose of serving sports fans.
As the SBJ’s John Ourand puts it, “For a network whose mission has long been to ‘serve sports fans,’ the root of these problems had nothing to do with serving sports fans, some longtime current and former ESPNers complained last week.”
Putting the unprepared Sergio Dipp, a journalist who has not yet mastered the King’s English, much less his own emotions, perfectly illustrated the miscues Ourand was talking about. After the segment, where the young reporter seemed tongue-tied and unprepared, his poor performance was all everyone could talk about. It was bad enough that ESPN chose the stage of the opening night of Monday Night Football, to feature a reporter who turned out to be completely unprepared. However, his laughable segment completely overshadowed what ESPN insiders thought was a wonderful feather in ESPN’s cap with the historic debut of Beth Mowins, the first woman to call “Monday Night Football.”
As everyone guffawed over Dipp, Mowins was practically ignored, and ESPN lost all the positive publicity her debut was supposed to engender.
It appears that insiders have also turned paranoid over the constant hazing ESPN is taking in the media. Ourand says executives are grumbling that Fox Sports 1 is behind all the bad publicity ESPN is getting as Fox tries to pump up its own sports services.
In Ourand’s view, “…there is also a growing belief among ESPN stalwarts that some of the problems are not all self-inflicted. Some believe that 21st Century Fox is orchestrating attacks against ESPN to bolster the fortunes of rival sports channel FS1.”
Ourand goes on to point out that many Fox shows have focused on ESPN’s missteps, which, to some, could be viewed as proof that Fox is orchestrating such attacks.
However, regardless of the source of the attacks on ESPN, such as they are. The bigger problem for the Bristol-based sports giant is that they have made themselves vulnerable to orchestrated media attacks, through the comical mishandling of relatively simple tasks.
The Robert Lee situation was a completely unforced error, that even the Onion might have thought too contrived. No one could know that Sergio Dipp would turn in the worst sideline report in the history of sideline reports, on the same night in which Beth Mowins made her famous broadcast. Yet, why take the chance?
The Jemele Hill situation was a clear-cut case of an employee in flagrant violation of every form of journalistic ethics and conduct. Mandating at least a significant suspension, if not outright firing. Though, because the network is paralyzed by the politically correct monster they’ve helped create. They essentially did nothing, lest they anger the social justice Twitter mob that they’ve catered their entire network too.
Ourand does note that Fox employees have said in private interviews that there have been no directives or suggestions from Fox bosses to hit ESPN.
Ourand ends his discussion of ESPN’s descent into paranoia with a cogent point:
“But, as several close to Bristol implied, the fact that Fox News was even talking about ESPN was evidence that ESPN did something that had nothing to do with its mission of ‘serving sports fans.'”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.