As we get closer and closer to the start of the World Cup, the ESPN PR machine is in full promotion mode. Try to watch the Worldwide Leader for 30 minutes without seeing some sort of soccer story. Of course this is because ESPN has the rights.
Meanwhile the NHL Stanley Cup Finals are under way but good luck seeing any extended coverage of what some believe is the most exciting postseason in sports. Of course ESPN does not own the rights to the NHL.
This leads to the ongoing media debate of the role and power of ESPN. Are they a sports news operation? A promotion machine? Is it both and how should the two be balanced and do they conflict?
In this day and age it all cross pollinates. For most sports media companies, whether it’s television or radio for that matter, there is an obligation of coverage to the sport or team the entity paid to gain their rights. ESPN dished out $100 million for the English-language rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cup’s. That’s a large sum of cash so like any business ESPN wants to capitalize on their investment. That means features, stories and opinion woven throughout their sports “news” programs with the hopes that it will drive more people to watch the matches. ESPN I’m sure will also argue that there is a higher demand for the World Cup than the NHL.
Whether you agree with that assessment or not ESPN has the power to make that decision due the dominant position they own in the sports media landscape. They have been the pioneers of blurring the lines between sports journalism and promotion in pushing their “sports” agenda. And we as sports fans just have to accept that and clearly we have considering ESPN has yet to have a true viable competitor.
And for those of us that would rather see coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals over the World Cup on ESPN, you’ll be happy to know that Fox Sports spent around $425 million to get the English-speaking rights to the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. Maybe by then ESPN will have regained the rights of the NHL and the coverage tables will be turned.
Hat tip to Ben Criddle on twitter for the picture that pretty much sums up one of the many differences between the two sports.