Tuesday, July 3, 2007

At ESPN, conflict of interest is business as usual

from Le Anne Schreiber of ESPN

Imagine The New York Times owning half of the Broadway theaters whose plays it reviews. Or imagine CNN paying billions of dollars for exclusive multiyear rights to cover the War in Iraq. Imagine the temptation to recoup investment by piquing advance interest and prolonging the runs of plays and wars.

That kind of temptation, almost inconceivable for other news organizations, is a chronic circumstance of journalistic life at ESPN, and has been since the day it first paid good money to televise an event while also covering it as news.


After the NHL left ESPN for Versus in 2005, hockey fans have complained that ESPN's coverage of the sport has declined considerably. In contrast, coverage of NASCAR and AFL, whose rights ESPN recently acquired, appear to be way up. Le Anne Schreiber, ESPN's ombudsman, confirms that hockey coverage on SportsCenter has indeed dropped 28 percent in the last three years. Can "The Worldwide Leader in Sports" kill or build a sport by giving it more or less esposure? ESPN seems to think so.