So let’s see. Bill Simmons was, maybe, Indiana Avenue. Hunter S. Thompson was kind of like taking a chance on owning the electric company. But ESPN’s recent addition of Rick Reilly? Monopoly.
To be fair, how can you blame them? Reilly represented one of the last, faithfully-followed sportswriters/casters not to join “the family of networks.” Not only that, but he may have been the last remaining piece of the puzzle for ESPN’s complete sports media takeover. Think about it: Sports Illustrated represents the only tangible, non-Bristol-based form of sports media. There are no legitimate competitors on T.V., online or on the radio when it comes to consistent sports news . The only market ESPN even remotely competes in is magazines. But Reilly may very well have been the linchpin that kept subscribers tied to SI. Either him or those authentic NFL team fleeces.
So now the question becomes: Is this good for us (the sports media consumers)? My fear is, no. And the reason is competition. More specifically, the lack-there-of. Us journalism folk are always asked in college to look back to the days of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer – heads of the New York Journal and the New York World in the late-1800s. This period is infamous for spawning “yellow journalism,” but it’s also viewed as one of the most progressive eras in journalism. When reporters and editors stopped being passive and started to find the news instead of letting it come to them.
Seeing as one could argue that some of ESPN’s current reporting tactics already border on being “yellow,” we need to seriously wonder whether or not a complete lack of competition is the best thing for a network that has already proven it’s ability to influence the very subjects it reports on. I’m not saying the Rick Reilly will yield the power of his mighty pen to make the Lakers trade Kobe, but the less people are picking, clicking or flipping to other media outlets, the more power ESPN has.
And once they have all the power? Well, game over.