ESPN’s overwhelming Tim Tebow coverage looks to be trending downward after network president John Skipper said he told producers to take it back a notch following criticism from Doug Gottlieb
Former ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb evidently lit a fire under current network president John Skipper when he ripped ESPN’s policy of constantly covering Tim Tebow for ratings. Gottlieb appeared on the Dan Patrick Show to describe his stance on the strategy to effectively trade in journalistic integrity for the sake of ratings, telling his fellow ESPN alumnus, “I was told specifically, ‘You can’t talk enough Tebow.’”
Skipper addressed the critique and the internal change it inspired during an interview with Sports Business Daily:
“The quote that I hated was from Doug Gottlieb. … I didn’t love that. I want people to think about what works for the next 10 minutes might not be the best thing for us for three years. That one hit home with me,” Skipper said before referencing the lampooned decision to over-cover the Jets training camp with not just Sal Paolantonio, but an entire crew.
“Training camp was fine. The guy’s very popular. In our business, we do want to drive ratings. You’ve just got to keep long-term, short-term in mind.”
How Skipper described the network’s plan to shape up and stop annoying SportsCenter audiences with reports on Tebow’s birthday:
“We’ve had some good discussions internally about trying to be careful. In some ways, the more difficult internal conflict is between long-term story telling and ratings. We all know that if you focus on the Tebow story, for the next 10 minutes you’re going to do better. But the question is trying to take a long-term perspective and saying, ‘Guys, let’s not get over excited about one story and hyping it.’”
Gottlieb’s revelation joined the chorus of jeers from Patrick’s show, Awful Announcing, and other outlets but certainly not one watching closer than Deadspin. Last month the site ripped ESPN for over-saturating the Tebow talk in favor of transparency. ESPN Senior rite Lynn Hoppes was busted plagiarizing from Wikipedia, SportsCenter anchors read copy lifted word-for-word from a Yahoo! sports report, and the network’s failure to address the Sarah Phillips scam all made targets out of the global sports brand.
The Tebow phenomenon—that is, the sustained celebrity of a football player of only moderate ability—says as much about ESPN as it does about the quarterback himself. For the better part of a decade, the narrative about ESPN has held that the integrity of the news operation is subordinate to the Worldwide Leader’s business concerns. (Just think back to The Decision or to the Bonds on Bonds docuseries before that, the one that ceded editorial control to the Giants outfielder and left Pedro Gomez, ESPN’s Bonds beat guy, pressing his nose up against his own network’s window.) Given that ESPN has deals with nearly every major league—and ignores the ones with which it doesn’t have deals—the question has become inescapable: How can the company produce honest journalism when it’s in business with, well, everybody?
ESPN has proven it can—the coverage of the replacement-ref fiasco in the wake of the Green Bay-Seattle Monday night game was a high point—but in recent months something began to shift. There was Tebowmania, of course, but more quietly there were several incidents of journalistic malpractice that were notable not for the egregiousness of the crimes but for ESPN’s total indifference to them (about which more later). We weren’t the only ones to notice. A member of the newsroom was just as baffled as we were by the silence of a media company that blankets the office in memos at the drop of a zipper.
Now that Skipper has gone public about the misdirection hopefully he leads ESPN more in the direction of 30 For 30 over following Skip Bayless down the gutter.