By: Tom Malone
Then and Now
In 1979, SportsCenter aired on the soon-to-be worldwide sports journalism juggernaut, ESPN. According to Those Guys Have All the Fun by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, “An estimated 30,000 viewers saw that first night of programming” (45).
The show originally covered obscure sports, such as Australian football and the World Series of slow-pitch softball. After signing a contract with the NCAA, ESPN received permission to cover college basketball. The Connecticut-based network found a following with University of Connecticut basketball fans immediately. Its ratings skyrocketed and ESPN never looked back (Miller 44).
Today, SportsCenter outshines every competitor and claims the number-one spot in sports journalism broadcasts by reaching 115 million viewers per month . Through spatialization and an enhanced global reach, there are now “thirteen local versions of SportsCenter produced in eight languages: Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, Hindi, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Japanese” (Miller Photo Index).
The Walt Disney Company (WDC) owns ESPN , thus controlling the production and distribution of SportsCenter. Comcast provides most basic cable packages with ESPN and ESPN 2, while its internet users can view ESPN 3 and other networks that are horizontally integrated by WDC. The FCC acknowledges ESPN as a major network, though it has received some leeway from the governing media body.
Audience and Advertising
SportsCenter’s target consumer audience includes males ages 18 to 34. It has been commodified in content through audience viewership and has been branded as a “cool” form of news. ESPN hired Wieden + Kennedy to produce commercials for SportsCenter, which further added to the show’s reputation. Disney’s Donald Duck makes a subtle appearance as Puddles in this example:
Other corporations use SportsCenter as a medium to market to advertise commodities to the target audience. Commodities like Budweiser (ESPN’s first sponsor) and Miller Lite produce ad campaigns geared directly toward the sports fan audience that ESPN’s premier show targets. These commodities “sponsor” certain segments of the show, blending the images of the respective product with the cool factor of SportsCenter.
Expansion and Synergy
In recent years, SportsCenter has enhanced its commodification efforts through synergy. ESPN produced a child home activity center called Gamestation, which coincidentally won Disney’s Toy of the Year award in 2004. ESPN offers SportsCenter t-shirts and Christmas ornaments as well, further commodifying the show’s brand through the popularization of slogans. The network reaches commodity fetishism through SportsCenter.
ESPN also launched a SportsCenter iPad app. “When ESPN introduced a SportsCenter iPad app in 2010, it was quickly downloaded by ten million users, 95 percent of whom personally customized it” (Miller 727). The iPad is made by Apple, formerly owned by the late Steve Jobs, who sat on The Walt Disney Company board of directors.
Disney further promotes itself and its shows on SportsCenter through guest appearances in sports discussions. University of Oregon alum Ty Burrell of ABC’s Modern Family made a guest appearance during the Duck’s run for the BCS Championship.
In the Anchorman DVD special features (distributed by Dreamworks, a direct Disney competitor created by a former Disney employee), Will Ferrell’s character playfully auditions for a spot on SportsCenter.
As of 2010, SportsCenter and ESPN produced “over $8 billion of revenue and still had the best ratings of any basic cable network” (Miller 727). SportsCenter continues to grow in popularity and shows no signs of slowing down since no other congruent network show can compete.
**Originally published through The Politics Behind SportsCenter
Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales