One of the biggest stories in sports media the past few weeks revolved around the NBA Finals hosting assignment. Obviously there’s a lot of pregame and postgame coverage, but watching just the halftime show, if you can call it that, you’d be forgiven for wondering why anyone would want to host.
From the end of the second quarter to the start of the third quarter, ESPN (well, ABC, but it’s an ESPN presentation/production so we’re referring to it that way) has routinely aired twelve minutes of commercials. If you’re looking for analysis on the important game you’re watching, you may be better served scrolling NBA Twitter while walking your dog, taking a dump, or doing your dishes.
ESPN has to know they’re pissing people off but has decided that the juice is worth the squeeze. The network makes about $50 million per Finals game, and a meaty chunk of that comes at halftime. TNT’s halftime show during the Eastern Conference Finals was only 48% commercials, per our analysis. That’s still a lot, but at least the majority of halftime has actual content and analysis.
Looking at the Game 4 halftime break as well as other breakdowns done by aggrieved fans of previous games, the breakdown roughly follows this pattern once halftime starts.
– 4 minutes and 30 seconds of commercials with a “thrilling moment of the game” 15 second highlight baked in the middle of it.
– Halftime crew does analysis…..for 1 total minute (with sponsor reads to follow). The breakdown of what that looks like from Bryan Curtis.
Like an aging scout, I watched Wednesday’s halftime show with a timer. First, host Maria Taylor threw it to Jalen Rose. Rose’s spiel (saluting Devin Booker) lasted 9.86 seconds. Williams went next. He talked for 9.38 seconds about Giannis Antetokounmpo. Adrian Wojnarowski chipped in 9.93 seconds about Chris Paul. There was some sponsored “brought to you by” stuff. Then the segment was over. The editorial part lasted less than one minute.
Here is the entire editorial portion of halftime from game 3:
– Another nearly 4 minutes of commercials.
– Halftime crew does about 30 seconds of highlights (sponsored)
– 4 plus minutes of commercials
– One minute of locker room video and analysis from the booth crew, and then the third quarter starts.
If this sounds absolutely awful, it is! The tsunami of ads has certainly not gone unnoticed:
ESPN halftime show is ridiculous. ABSOLUTELY no analysis. They talk about one play then go to commercial. Then show one highlight, go to commercial. It's just ridiculous.
— Logan (@lmenihan3) July 15, 2021
So ESPN has just given up on the concept of a halftime show? Them homies were on for a minute and a half
— Wosny Lambre (@BigWos) July 15, 2021
ESPN’s halftime is a joke.
— KENNY BEECHAM (@KOT4Q) July 15, 2021
It's incredible how many ads are on ESPN's Finals halftime.
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) July 12, 2021
Halftime has always been commercial heavy, especially for larger events. It’s a big revenue window. But paying a host and analysts a lot of money to give them one minute of total, collective airtime to analyze the ongoing game feels pointless. There is no conversation. It’s people trying to get in less than a tweet’s worth of analysis across to the audience in under 10 seconds. There’s no way to make that good.
As Curtis explains:
“The weirder part is the way ESPN has set up its analysts to interact with one another. Basically, they don’t. They don’t get to challenge or clarify one another’s points. They don’t nudge one another toward something interesting. They “hand off,” in a time-honored TV sense, rather than have an actual conversation.”
It’s not that the show or the analysts is fundamentally flawed, it’s that it’s given only one minute to try to do a show because some suit in Bristol decided that’s what needed to happen. Ultimately a few minutes of extra commercials across six or seven games adds up, money-wise.
At the same time, it’s significantly irritating fans and worse, underselling the significance of the actual game which needs and deserves substantive analysis and conversation. The importance of the Finals is what sells those ads to begin with, and 75% of halftime being commercials is insane. I imagine everyone involved knows it. Let’s hope ESPN dials it back the final three games, or failing that at least in future seasons. Otherwise their halftime and studio reputation is going to continue to take hits, especially considering the unflattering comparison to TNT’s approach. The NBA, the broadcast and production teams, and more importantly the fans all deserve better.