Riding the wave of what USA Today calls "college football's growing popularity," ESPN will debut College Football Live on July 23rd. Why now?
"College football fans want more content," Berson says. "This has been a long time coming. It's a natural extension for us. We expect it to become a staple of our programming, like NFL Live and Baseball Tonight."
It's coming on at 3:30 p.m. EST, which means ESPN may have misstepped already by assuming you're on the couch clearing a bong in between classes.
You may very well be doing this at 3:30, and if you are, te salutamos, amigo. However, as slyly literate as college football fans can be, most are engaged in the act of substantive employment at 3:30 in the afternoon, even if only to pay off the massive debt incurred by a university education. Hell, even those we'd label as the "Powertool Leroys" of the college football set, the blue-collar locals who follow the university team like a pro squad, are likely still at work. The slot's awful, but we can't move Rome Is Burning, can we? Midgets are wicked deadly when made angry.
The likeable Rece Davis will run the point for the show along with the usual rolling intellectual blackout of analysts: Lou Holtz, Mark May, Bob Griese, Doug Flutie, Todd Blackledge, Craig James and Ed Cunningham. No mention of awesome Jim Donnan and his bedhead, or any sight of a varsity squad version of Ron Jaworski manning the telestrator and actually explaining what's actually occurring on the screen.
Bringing us to dos and don'ts of the upcoming show. As a very selective consumer of ESPN products (Gameday, Bruce Feldman, Pat Forde, and we suppose NASCAR now,) we want the program to be a success, because it's about college football and DEEHHHHHRRRR we crave King Content like everyone else, provided it's not manufactured and reflects something actually occurring regarding our chosen sport. Anything associated with Stephen A. Smith would not qualify, no matter how loudly it's presented.
1. Ixnay on weepy player profiles. The real becomes satire once the maudlin synth strings creep into the soundtrack. It's somehow four thousand times worse when Jeremy Schaap wants to emote us into a teary fetal position, but talks himself into a corner like the Shatner of sports journs. It's a dead segment format, mostly because the fewer the frills a story has, the more a viewer bonds with the story and doesn't tune out the obvious tired emotional cues. Send it the way of Barbaro.
Yay analysis. No, we're not too dumb. Given the audience, actually, the most literate and obsessive fanbase they may have is college football. The offseason affords boundless space for parsing x and o-age; just gander at some of the amateur whiteboard stuff floating around the blogosphere. Placing the field greens of analysis along with the standard romaine and iceberg lettuce of point-and-blab talking head time is a little nod to the more discerning sports consumer that, yes, while most people are going to enjoy ranch/lettuce soup by the bowlful, the management cares about you, too.
Keep Mark May. He's a one-man content provider, first of all, with a whole site devoted to his wrongness. However, we will praise him by saying that he's in reality a blend of the partisan and the studied, mixing in coherence with brazen rhetorical shortcuts and doing it all with unparalleled smug. Add in the Mark May Peltstache disguise he added last year, and Mark May sounds less and less like an ESPN commentator, and more and more like...a blogger.
Therefore, keep him. Rotten tomatoes need rotten targets, no?
Get some ADD going here. The mysterious disappearing 18-30 year old male demographic craves quick-cut, compulsive content. In marching band parlance, we'd call what Davis/Holtz/May show does right now "park 'n blow": announcers looking at the camera, usually with a topic beneath their face, discussing said topic at length.
Fine if you haven't been raised on Adult Swim and Ritalin, sure. But the only growth industry ESPN's got as far as commentary has been PTI, something whose simple format they've desperately been trying to replicate for a few years now with little success. Whatever the setup is, it's got to be internet-fast, simple, and with only a few elemental frills built into it. At the risk of sounding very media consultant dorky, you're talking about users now, and not viewers. When they get the information in a novel package, they'll come back for more.
Lose the ties. The biggest factor making ESPN look like a bunch of stodgy Northeastern productivity dorks talking on their cell phones just to look busy: ties on everyone. If the camera panned around, we expect to see ties on the cameras, the microphones, on the boom mike operator...it's a completely non-ironic Anchorman move to keep everyone at ESPN ties--they wear them because they're classy, an adjective used by Will Ferrell because it means precisely nothing. (Unless we're talking about Tony Bennett. He's classy. But you? Us? The world at large since 1952? No.)
Drop them and be free, boys. Let the neck fat breathe.