I have long had a love-hate relationship with the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
For instance I maintain that Pardon The Interruption is one of the absolute best shows on television. Not of sports shows, I mean any show. From an entertainment and information standpoint, good luck beating it.
On the other hand, I just can’t watch the network’s flagship news show, SportsCenter.
While I am sure there is a big market for all the “Booyah”-like catch phrases, forced debates and downright silly features like the current “Who’s Now” nonsense – it is just not for me. To kind of quote promising new ESPN football analyst Keyshawn Johnson, just give me the damned highlights.
And Saturday’s ESPN U network coverage of the United States’ loss to Austria in the Under-20 World Cup soccer match was a perfect microcosm of my relationship with ESPN as a viewer.
As a soccer fan (it’s okay to come out of the closet now that David Beckham has arrived here in Los Angeles), I was thrilled to have live coverage of an event featuring the up and coming stars of many of the top soccer playing nations in the world. It wasn’t that long ago that World Cup matches were hard to find, much less an Under-20 World Cup. So for that, to ESPN I am incredibly grateful.
However, watching the match on ESPN was terrible. While the network just took a straight world feed for audio and video, it absolutely murdered the picture and the experience with a constant graphics overlay throughout the game.
As the game took place, you had one bar at the top of the screen that told viewers it was the Under-20 World Cup. Under that, you had the typical bar with the score and the time clock, as well as two different ESPN logos. Below that, you often had a pop-up that either had the word “quarterfinal” or the teams’ jersey colors or something else.
Then at the bottom of the screen, you had the typical crawl, which had crucial facts such as that Middlebury College won the 2006 Division 3 Cross Country title in the fall of 2006.
I took out a tape measure and my screen top to bottom is 19 inches. The info at the top went 3.5 inches from the top and the crawl was about 1.5-2 inches from the bottom, meaning more than 25% of the screen during a live event was taken up with graphics – and they weren’t even sponsor logos.
If ESPN was going to be making a few bucks via sponsor logos to pay the bills, that is one thing. But with needless information like college title holders from last fall muddling up the screen, it really crushed the viewing experience.
The world feed that ESPN took had camera work centered on a typical screen, meaning the ESPN viewer often had to deal with the ball or players’ heads disappearing behind needless graphics.
Again, it was just typical ESPN for me. So much to love as a sports fan, but always so much to just drive me crazy.