How to Fix SportsCenter: While We’re Waiting…


Happy Pre-Friday, y’all. I’d say it was a swell Wednesday for the City of Cleveland, though I can’t say I asked it personally. The Browns didn’t lose, the Indians and Corey Kluber dealt another blow to those dastardly White Sox, and the Cavaliers took a 3-2 series lead over the Toronto Raptors, closing them in their jaws with the skin-tearing, bone-crushing force of a much larger dinosaur. I now feel 40 percent less panicked.

After Game 4, I implored the Cavaliers to trap Raptor guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (who combined for 67 points in Game 4), instead of sitting back on their heels and hoping good things would happen on defense. In Game 5, the Cavaliers did just that, scoring 30 points off 18 Toronto turnovers (more than they forced in Games 3 and 4 combined), conceding only 27 points to Lowry and DeRozan. Besides the obvious result of impeding Lowry and DeRozan, trapping hard forces the Cavaliers to have an aggressive defensive mentality, and sets in motion a controlled scramble for the ball that visibly bothers and disrupts the Raptors offense. Until the Raptors show an effective counter, I’m optimistic that the Cavaliers finally solved the Raptors puzzle.

Is SportsCenter doomed? The television sports highlight is dying a slow, painful death. It’s another tragic case of “Internet killed the video star.” The pain of suffering through agonizing minutes (sometimes almost a full hour!) through a full-fledged production to receive the morsels of in-game highlights we crave has given way to video on Tweets, Vines, Streamables, Youtube videos, and other forms of instantaneous gratification. (Unless it’s a baseball highlight, in which case, if Major League Baseball has its way, it will never be seen by anyone ever.)

This creates an interesting situation for SportsCenter, ESPN’s flagship program. SportsCenter began as a national sports program (a novelty at the time) that would replay in-game action with highlights to viewers across the country and the globe. But now, most of SportsCenter’s target viewers have the ability to preempt the program by finding highlights elsewhere — instantly — if they have even the slightest desire to see them. Suddenly, viewers can find what was once SportsCenter’s primary resource in dozens of other places, without any hassle. It’s like SportsCenter is rolling into town with a wagon full of food to relieve people who live inside a Golden Corral. The same could be said for any news or press conference tidbits, for which the media empire began using SportsCenter as a platform in its adolescence. Basically, what is SportsCenter’s value proposition to viewers in 2016? In the Age of Cord-Cutting, what benefit is SportsCenter providing consumers that isn’t already available elsewhere?

I’ve been thinking about this since last weekend, after I heard Stephen A. Smith admit on SportsCenter1 that he had no idea what the hell he was talking about (though I paraphrased him, the tweet below is shockingly close to what he actually said). Then I listened to Bryan Curtis’ excellent Serial-style Ringer podcast on the death of the highlight (on which current SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt shared both insights and fears), and read Awful Announcing discuss how ESPN is upping its Stephen A. Smith dosage on SportsCenter.

SportsCenter may not be salvageable (at least not by the network’s lofty standards). It may be a dying institution. But, assuming it can be revived, how does ESPN “fix” SportsCenter? Here are suggestions, some serious and some less so.2

  • Entrust the fate of the franchise in someone with talent, taste, and charisma; like, say, Scott Van Pelt. Give this individual or team the creative freedom to do whatever they want with the show, and trust that they’ll do something special with it.3
  • 1. Embrace Debate! 2. Give Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith the entire day to yell at each other; 3. Turn the thermostat to 95 to keep the hot takes coming; and 4. Put an icepick through the top of my skull.
  • Lower production costs by replacing all the SportsCenter anchors with robots. Then, the brand will be able to live forever without regard to viewer numbers. Like you would notice if they replaced Zubin Mehenti with a robot?
  • Make SportsCenter exclusively about the Cowboys, Yankees, and Lakers. Big markets! Numbers! Revenue!
  • Turn the entire hour into a panel of athletes sitting around the world’s most expensive conference room desk saying generic comments devoid of analysis or insight. Oh wait, that’s already NFL Live.
  • More eSports. There are few athletic feats more impressive than someone getting a triple-double of head shots in League of Warcraft. Did I do that right?
  • Turn the studio into an EDM dance studio, and drop the bass during the most dramatic part of a highlight. Think about it: A 2-2 count in the bottom of the eighth, down two, bases loaded. And the pitch. Bryce Harper swings and drives one to deep left … THEN Skrillex drops the bass, strobe lights and lasers vaporize your eyeballs, and Bryce Harper’s shot sails over the wall as fans go wild and teenagers with glow sticks lose their minds. It would be a huge hit in the 18-22 year olds — and they’re in the key demo!
  • Eliminate all editions of SportsCenter before 6 p.m. ET, and after midnight. This won’t fix or save SportsCenter, but they ought to do it anyway.
  • Follow Stephen A. Smith around for an hour, just having him yell at appliances and passerby, divulging generally false information supposedly passed to him by his celebrity friends.
  • Put the entire show on Snapchat, and like, put on a filter where the anchor is a tiger riding a skateboard or something. Whatever it is people do with Snapchat. Millennials will love it.
  • Did I hear 2022 Mock Draft? Someone go open Mel Kiper Jr.’s crypt.
  • Fully embrace the analytical approach: Let Zach Lowe and Tim Legler geek out over some game film for 20-25 minutes after a playoff game. Bring on Tom Haberstroh to discuss the statistics. Do more film segments with Jon Gruden, you know, when he’s not swinging a pool noodle at some poor quarterback prospect. Find a way to appeal to the most intelligent sports fans. Never mind, this will never work.
  • Repent past mistakes, and pay an obscene amount of money to Katie Nolan to come do something wacky and cool. Alternative savior: Lorne Michaels. If he can turn The Tonight Show into a hit with Jimmy Fallon, he can save SportsCenter.
  • More 3-D Arby’s ads in the studio. This one seems like a no-brainer, honestly.
  • Make anchors overcome a moat with alligators, a Ninja Warrior obstacle course, or a Raiders of the Lost Ark/Legends of the Hidden Temple challenge to get the opening shot sheet.
  • Sell it to Netflix.
  • Cut costs by playing highlight reels of already-televised cliches from years past. “OK, we had a player yell at a teammate on the sideline. … Can we a get a roll of ‘not a team player,’ ‘poor character,’ ‘need to be a leader,’ ‘not just about the Xs and Os,’ and ‘not how you win games in the National Football League’? Actually, just play the same one from last week.”
  • Just ask people on Twitter and Facebook what they want ESPN to show or do on SportsCenter. But not, like, in a way that seems desperate. Actually, just show a 60-minute live feed of mentions with #SportsCenterTop10. People want to be on TV!
  • Go low-fi/casual. Let Scott Van Pelt and Ryan Russillo slam National Bohemians in a wood-paneled basement and shoot the shit, complete with delivery pizza and home-cooked meals from Mama Van Pelt. For the Los Angeles edition of SportsCenter, have Neil Everett and Stan Verrett chill in a garage in tank tops and flip-flops talking about how “rad” that game was and how “stoked” they are for the Finals. They’re like me and my friends!
  • Intersperse sports coverage with nature stills and ambient noise, since 75 percent of all SportsCenter viewers are watching silently at the bar, trying to fall asleep, or doin’ it.
  • ESPN is owned by Disney, and Disney is totally willing to waste/dilute its IP from Star Wars. Have SportsCenter hosted by Boba Fett or Chewbacca or BB-88 and R2-D2. Unlike most of the ideas on this list, Disney/ESPN has at least considered this idea.
  • Have four people with ill-founded opinions yelling over one another on split screens, or as I call it, the CNN/Around the Horn plan.
  • Full viral, baby: nothing but trick shots, bad memes, and the latest Draymond Green groin kick.
  • Make it the sports version of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (note: NOT The Daily Show with Trevor Noah) for sports. Give someone with impeccable comedic timing, wit, and intolerance for BS a platform to skewer all that’s lazy, ignorant, or intellectually dishonest in the world of sports. Much like SportsCenter, TDS had to provide value to viewers who already knew everything that was going to be discussed on the show.4 (On second thought, tolerating BS and dishonesty is necessary for ESPN to maintain good relationships with the NCAA and every professional sports league.)
  • Just talk about DeflateGate for the rest of time. When DeflateGate is resolved, appeal it to the Supreme Court. That’s another 18 months of content right there. On today’s show, footnote 8 of the NFLPA’s amicus brief!
  • Two words: Costume. Corgis. I haven’t thought this idea totally through yet … but I know I’m onto something.
  • Build the broadcast around the interaction of people with actual chemistry and sound comedic sensibilities. You know, like Inside the NBA on TNT, but on ESPN.
  • Do a complete 180: nothing but highlights! No context or analysis! Consider adding more cartoon sound effects, “Yakety-Sax,” and fart noises. At least Stephen A Smith won’t be involved.
  • Create a sports/pop culture variety show around Bill Simmons. Think Grantland: The TV Show. Wait, ESPN did what with Grantland??? Well, that just seems like poor decision-making.
  • Have SportsCenter co-hosted by the current Bachelor or Bachelorette. Women viewers will double overnight … to four.
  • Just show 12 hours of “This is SportsCenter” commercials all day. Actually, I genuinely like this idea. Those commercials are fantastic.

Your Calvin and Hobbes strip of the day. Someone tell the Browns they don’t need 15 years of Fs to keep expectations low.


And now for the random ’90s song of the day. With the Cavaliers heading all the way to another country for Friday’s Game 5, it’s fitting that the R90SotD has a little international flair: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Around the World.” It’s a great album opener for a great album: 1999’s Californication. Flea thunders away on his bass, announcing that some serious rocking is about to ensue (hopefully much like Tristan Thompson will do on the boards on Friday night). Then, Anthony Kiedis unleashes a primal yell before doing his weird rap-rock thing while John Frusciante plucks away. The music video appears to start with the premise of, “What if our music studio was, like, on the sun?” Ohio gets a shoutout, while Toronto is ignored. Take that, Canada!

I saw God and I saw the fountains
You and me girl, sitting in the Swiss mountains
Me Oh My O, Me and Guy O
Freer than a bird `cause we’re rocking Ohio!

  1. I had left ESPN on in the background while preparing to leave the house. []
  2. Believe it or not, I actually do want to improve SportsCenter. I grew up with SportsCenter, and have appreciated what it’s stood for since I was a child. I admire many things ESPN does, and I openly despise many things ESPN does. But I want ESPN to do things that are good for sportsviewers, much in the same way I want my local or federal government to do things that are good for people. It’s worth noting that I stopped watching SportsCenter regularly ten years ago, and it’s hard to imagine a future in which the program entices me. But because I watch so much sports, I often see SportsCenter incidentally — it’s on in the background as I cook or clean or do work or check email. For that reason, it may not be in ESPN’s best interest to totally abandon viewers like myself. []
  3. As far as I can tell, Scott Van Pelt has been given the latitude to do almost whatever he wants with the midnight edition of SportsCenter (which is still young at this point), though I don’t know how much good it’s doing when Van Pelt’s version of SC is buried beneath somewhere between 4 and 12 other conventional, indistinguishable daily editions of SportsCenter. []
  4. This isn’t unlike Scott Van Pelt’s “One Big Thing” segment in which he ripped the hypocrisy of daily fantasy sports versus “gambling.” []