The college football season began in earnest last weekend, and as much as I enjoyed watching the action, I found myself annoyed at something that’s been gnawing at me lately whenever I watch sports on ESPN: the fact that ESPN leaves their news ticker, the BottomLine, on for the entirety of the games. It’s something we’ve gotten accustomed to as sports fans, both because so many sports air on ESPN and because ESPN is practically synonymous with having a news ticker. But just because we’ve all gotten used to it doesn’t mean it isn’t taking up an annoying amount of real estate, and the more we transition to a world where we aren’t consuming games on linear television anymore, the more we need to ask ourselves how much of a purpose the ticker is even serving in the first place.
These days, the ticker is basically a relic. It’s an anachronism from a time when nobody had cell phones, digital programming guides weren’t common and it wasn’t practical to get live updates from the internet. Once upon a time, ESPN’s ticker was the most convenient way to get sports scores in a timely manner in America. Fans wanting an update from a specific game could turn on ESPN and then wait for it to cycle to the game they were interested in after a few minutes or so. ESPN’s news ticker was essentially the sports equivalent of the TV Guide Channel, and not long after ESPN implemented it, it became universal enough to be found on virtually all ESPN programming, including most live sporting events outside of major ones.
Eventually, cell phones and the improvement of the internet lessened the necessity of the ticker, but it remained a fixture on ESPN anyway. It became background noise, something that could plausibly be there for no other reason than to be one more bit of stimuli meant to grab viewers’ attention. As time went on, the ticker became second nature to us, disappearing only for the most significant of events. In 2023, that’s still the case. You won’t find it up full-time during the U.S. Open or NBA games or Monday Night Football, but for most everything else, it’s still there on the bottom of the screen, still flipping through the news and scores of the moment while the action is taking place.
However, the more inessential the ticker has become, the more annoying it has become to see it on screen not merely occasionally but the entire time during living sporting events. In the past, it was plausible to say that the ticker was a valuable resource for sports fans and that even though it was competing with viewers for their attention, it had earned its right to stay on screen. In 2023, however, no one can make that argument in good faith anymore. Everyone is so married to their phones and so trained to search for the news they’re interested in themselves, whenever they want, that it’s hard to believe many people are still relying on that ticker to learn the score of a specific game, let alone during a different game itself.
It seems like ESPN realized this too because their news ticker isn’t even exclusively there to give viewers updates anymore. More than a third of it is now just ad space, used to promote future ESPN programming. To the extent their ticker is still ubiquitous, it feels as though that’s only because it dawned on ESPN that it serves as a plausible vehicle to broadcast a big ole advertisement in the corner of the screen throughout a live sporting event now.
This brings up the biggest problem with ESPN’s news ticker: it’s big. It takes up a little more than 9% of the entire screen, which is a lot for something dispensable. What that means is that every time there’s a sporting event with the ticker up, that action has to be shrunk and condensed to accommodate the big wall of graphics that adorns the bottom of the screen when you also factor in ESPN’s scorebug. When LSU played Florida State to open the season last Sunday, a whole sixth of the screen – 16.7% of it – was taken up by the scoreboard and ticker combined. In other words, when you watch a college football game on ESPN, you’re watching significantly less of the game than you would on another channel, and it’s all for the purpose of staring at a graphic that’s completely unnecessary and that no one needs to see anymore.
All of which is to say that it’s time for ESPN’s BottomLine to go the way of the dodo during live events. I don’t think it needs to disappear entirely from the channel; there’s still something intuitive about seeing it during news shows like SportsCenter. And I have no expectations that it will completely disappear now that it can function as a delivery system to showcase humungous advertisements. At the same time, if the only purpose this ticker can possibly serve during a live event now is to ulteriorly cram ads in people’s faces, then it simply doesn’t deserve to be there for the duration of games anymore.