When I first found out about ESPNBoston.com, essentially a spinoff of ESPN.com devoted entirely to Boston teams, I thought it was a good idea.
ESPN could give Boston sports fans a website devoted entirely to the teams they care about, and the idea could even help create jobs for sports reporters in that market—something which I, a sports reporter who will eventually have to find a job somewhere, was a big fan of. Think of it like national news networks with local affiliates: there could be a big ESPN mothership in Bristol, Conn., with local news offices providing specialized content from local reporters.
There are big advantages to supporting local reporters instead of flying national reporters to different cities like ESPN does now. Reporters who have been working with local sports teams for years tend to be much more knowledgeable than those who parachute in for a few days when a big news story happens.
ESPN is now expanding that local content to new markets like Dallas and Chicago, but the more I think about it, the more these ESPN affiliates make me nervous.
The ""World Wide Leader"" is just that—the biggest name in sports journalism. No other site or network dominates any news coverage the way ESPN dominates sports.
Think about it—when have you ever heard about a huge sports story and instantly thought, ""I'm going to check Fox Sports and find out more!"" If there is some new steroid revelation, nobody will wait to find out about it from the 10 minutes of sports coverage on the local news.
No, when sports news happens, people—myself included—will almost always turn to ESPN.com, ESPN or ESPN News to get more information.
If ESPN expands into local markets, it can provide better content and possibly jobs in an industry that needs them, but it would also further build a giant monopoly. Imagine if, instead of competing news networks like NBC, CBS, FOX and ABC, Americans had just one major source of news.
That's what we could be looking at if ESPN gradually takes over local sports coverage. Although the World Wide Leader has not said it plans to do anything more than specialized websites, the way I imagine this ending up could involve localized ESPN coverage on television.
Obviously there would still be a market for coverage from local TV stations and newspapers, but if given a choice between a local news report and one from ESPN, most people would take the big name from Bristol.
The other downside to an ESPN monopoly is that it would further allow the network to set the sports news agenda, as it often tries to do.
Think back to last summer, when Pro Football Talk first broke the story that a woman had filed a civil suit against Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, accusing him of sexual assault. A couple of days later, the Associated Press, a number of popular blogs and both major Pittsburgh newspapers had picked up the story, but ESPN remained silent.
ESPN eventually started posting stories about the allegations against Roethlisberger, but only after the network was roundly criticized for acting like it never happened.
ESPN argued it didn't cover the story because it was a civil complaint that would not affect Roethlisberger's ability to play, unlike a criminal complaint which could result in jail time.
But I would argue that allegations as serious as a sexual assault against a big name in the NFL are worth covering, even if they won't possibly result in a prison sentence.
If ESPN is going to have such a monopoly on sports coverage, it cannot ignore big stories like Roethlisberger's, as doing so is simply irresponsible for a network that is many peoples' only source for sports news.
Competition is good in journalism. This university's two newspapers drive each other to create the best content they can. Without that competition, it would be easy for one of them to slack off and create an inferior product.
So while ideas like ESPN Boston and ESPN Chicago may seem good, they are ultimately dangerous because they further crowd out competing sports news sources. Without competition, ESPN could become even more of a behemoth, exploiting its monopoly and creating poor content.
Hopefully, true competition can emerge for ESPN. That way, we can avoid a sports news monopoly and enjoy better, more responsible reporting as a result.
Think Nico's being too hard on ESPN? E-mail him at email@example.com.