2005-08-01

ESPN Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel


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So, I got home from vacation Saturday night, plopped down on the couch and scanned to find viewing material for the five minutes it would take me to pass out.

And what is ESPN sporting these days? Competitive eating? Competitive eating! And that's putting it mildly, by the way. It's more like disgusting gluttony on parade. I caught the highlights while I was waiting to see if it wasn't just one of those spoofs that turns into a commercial. I mean, it was sponsored by Alka Seltzer and everything. It would have been the perfect parody.

Alas, no. It was for real and it wasn't pretty. I didn't stay long enough to figure out the details. Sometimes it's hot dogs, sometimes spaghetti, and while you're thinking about the spaghetti, utensils are not to be found, so ... yeah, that's an image that will stay with you.

Now, during the year ESPN had a lot of unconventional programming; dog shows, Scrabble, spelling bees, etc. At one point I was able to cut them some slack due to the loss of the NHL. They suddenly had a lot of room to fill.

But this was the end of July. Nothing is missing. Granted it's a slow time. MLB has moved past its All Star Game but the excitement of the pennant races hasn't picked up yet. Wimbledon is done and the US Open isn't here yet. The Tour de France is over. We're between golf majors.

But, the football teams are in camp now ... talk more about them! That's what everyone is waiting for. Granted they are already covering football. Trust me ... I'll get sick of watching a 300-lb man shove spaghetti in his face with his bare hands a lot quicker than I'll get sick of hearing about the new Big East.

Actually, I blame Poker for this. Poker was another off-the-beaten path "sport" program. Then, it exploded. Suddenly the WSOP was commanding premium time slots, and other networks couldn't seem to rush poker derivatives to air fast enough. Does ESPN see competitive eating as the potential next big thing? Please, no.

Poker is something that has a mystique about it. Like a lot of sports, it's something the viewer can at least imagine themself doing well at, and that vision is appealing. Sitting at the final table, rolling chips through your fingers, a cool customer behind your Oakleys, waiting for your opponent's million dollar call.

Competitive eating is something anyone could do, but who wants to? I'm not sure what money level I'd have to reach before I'd be willing to point someone to my highlight reel, but it's a lot higher than what they're paying out, even with the Alka Seltzer sponsorship. "Dude, check this. I totally kicked butt in the Jell-O round! No, that's not blood on my shirt, it's gelatine residue."

ESPN, please! There's got to be a hopscotch tournament somewhere ... find it!

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