A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on my disappointment that other league owned networks weren’t following in the lead of NFL Network by launching biopic series in the mold of A Football Life. This led to an interesting homework assignment as I got two similar emails from people who inquired the same question: What’s an idea ESPN should pull the trigger on with making money being a priority?
Therefore it’s time to take off the Richard Deitsch hat and put on the Darren Rovell one. (Would Rovell even wear a hat? Ever?)
So I thought about it… and I thought about it some more. Walking my dog, in the shower, during commercials of baseball games, etc, this was on my mind for almost a week before I settled on an idea.
A total pivot for ESPN Classic.
Do you even know if you still get ESPN Classic anymore? What channel is it? When was the last time you watched it? Bonus points if you knew that ESPN Classic was founded by Hank Greenberg’s son.
Classic is a channel that is a target for some type of shift in strategy with its modest 30 million household distribution and largely non existent viewership. Ever since it was swapped out on various platforms for ESPNU it’s gone into hiding like Huell in Breaking Bad. In other words, it’s a decrepit fixer upper in an up and coming neighborhood that has potential.
The last time I watched ESPN Classic was briefly during the BCS Megacast for the NCAA National Championship Game. I was there for like 2 minutes before I realized how much I missed HD and Brent Musberger coyly eluding to a betting interest in the game. I haven’t been back, nor even checked out what’s airing since.
Who even wanders over to ESPN Classic and shouldn’t this person’s time be better spent creating an eHarmony profile or getting a pet? In the past, you’d venture over there to see “Instant Classics” of great games ESPN had the rights for but of late those replays have ventured over to ESPN, ESPNU, and ESPN2 – likely because those channels are in HD and have better distribution.
So what should ESPN do with Classic?
At a high level, just give the keys to Exit 31 and let them go wild. If you’re not familiar with Exit 31, it’s ESPN’s newly formed unit that is the umbrella over all their premium brands like 30 for 30, Grantland, Five Thirty Eight, and ESPN Films or as Sports Grid called it “ESPN To Combine All Quality, Non-Bullshit Entities Into New Unit.”
I’d rebrand the channel ESPN Stories and would aim to get it a) in High Definition b) in more households. If that proves to be too daunting, potentially make it an a la carte channel that you could bundle with ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider.
I’ve personally been enjoying ESPN’s ramping up of original storytelling content of late. The reality is in addition to ESPN Classic being the equivalent to a dusty VCR that you still have hooked up to your TV, ESPN has hit on the problem that their original story content is often too overcrowded by everything else on ESPN and that many great stories slip through the cracks. John Skipper touched on this topic recently at Media Day in Bristol when talking about SportsCenter.
“Sometimes we’ve beaten stories to death. We’ll probably try to do a little more storytelling and not do every 20 minutes the same sort of lineup of content. With all the new issues we have, whether it be Grantland, whether it be Five Thirty Eight, E:60, and all of the other things, we’re trying to push more of that content towards SportsCenter. Also trying to have more of a point of view that nobody sees everything. We have the slight tendency to assume that once we’ve shown it on one show that everybody’s seen it and I’ve looked at the ratings and everyone hasn’t seen it. We have plenty of opportunity to do more.”
As much as we like to hate on ESPN for feeling the need to chronicle LeBron James’ life more than Truman Burbank’s and employing Mark May, the reality is that they have an embarrassment of riches in terms of storytelling brands to the point where I’ve found myself frustrated that a lot of this great stuff isn’t getting adequate promotion and distribution. A few examples…