While the ESPN “BottomLine” ticker is a constant and familiar presence these days (and one that’s gone through many evolutions), the idea met with some resistance from prominent ESPN figures around its 1995 introduction. In particular, the idea of it airing results on SportsCenter before the main show covered those games drew pushback. Long-time SportsCenter anchor Linda Cohn (who just celebrated her 30-year anniversary at ESPN with a new contract) discussed that on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Jimmy Traina this week, and said fellow anchor Scott Van Pelt particularly voiced the concerns many anchors had at that time. Here’s a transcription from Barrett Sports Media:
“We were like, ‘what?’, said Cohn upon hearing of the idea at first. “I thought you cared about how we present our on-camera lead-ins, which is what we write, to present this big game and to build up the anticipation and to get the audience involved even though one of these teams they couldn’t care less about them.”
Cohn recalled Scott Van Pelt debating against the idea in the same meeting.
“So I remember Scott standing up, and when he stands up he’s even taller,” said Cohn, “he put on such a great debate saying everything we were thinking. ‘Wait a minute, how are we telling people the score before they see the highlights? That doesn’t make any sense.’”
…“It’s a like a great movie,” Cohn began. “We are telling the end of the movie before we saw the whole movie. What are you doing?”
In the end, ESPN still decided to adopt the technology onto their flagship show.
“We had no choice, we had no say, and we did it and the rest is history.”
It’s notable that while ESPN did eventually go in that direction, there are still viewers who dislike being “spoiled” by the BottomLine. Some even manually block out part of their TVs to avoid seeing scores there. So the concerns Van Pelt, Cohn, and others raised were not without merit for some viewers.
But there are also lots of viewers who want information as quickly as possible without regard to being “spoiled,” and the omnipresent BottomLine is definitely useful for them. And that’s a regular challenge with SportsCenter in particular; different viewers want different things from that kind of show. In this case, ESPN decided to go with the BottomLine there, and that’s now a pretty accepted part of that broadcast. These comments from Cohn are an interesting look back at how it might have gone differently if ESPN anchors had gotten their way, though.