SBD/Issue 204/Sports Media

ESPN Ombudsman Addresses Vuvuzelas, Net's World Cup Coverage

Ombudsman Says ESPN Did Not Have Any
Good Options For Dampening Vuvuzelas

In his latest contribution as ESPN Ombudsman, Don Ohlmeyer writes ESPN's FIFA World Cup coverage has resulted in "increased interest and overwhelmingly positive critical reaction" with "one notable exception -- the now infamous and persistent buzz of the vuvuzelas." Thanks to the vuvuzela, "no topic has been more buzzworthy" from the net's World Cup coverage, and many wondered "why ESPN simply didn't make it stop." While ESPN has a "few options" to reduce the vuvuzela sound, "none of the choices were good ones." Producers "could have dialed back most of the natural sound from the stadium, but there still would have been the incessant buzz -- and any sense of the electricity and excitement in the stands would be lost." Producers also "could have offered an 'announcers only' feed with no natural sound," but then the announcers "would have sounded as though they were commenting in a hollow phone booth." The net also "could have killed the natural sound from the stadium and used sound effects." Ohlmeyer: "ESPN made the right choice for the right reason on the vuvuzelas." Meanwhile, Ohlmeyer notes the World Cup has been "exciting, ratings are up dramatically over the 2006 Cup coverage and reception to the network's efforts has basically been complimentary." Ohlmeyer: "The coverage is excellent. The pictures are crystal clear and the replays appear quicker than usual -- a tribute to production's decisiveness. The announcers are enthusiastic yet restrained." There has been "appreciation for the fact that the coverage wasn't 'dumbed down,'" though when the audience "swelled from its 2.8 million average to almost 15 million for the U.S.-Ghana match, the announcers could have been a bit more inclusive and explanatory of the sport's intricacies for the non-initiated."

LOSING TRACK: Ohlmeyer noted 837,000 viewers were watching ESPN's coverage of the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at 9:49pm ET on June 25 when the net cut away from live coverage of the men's 5,000m "with less than two laps to go" for the "live coverage of the final three outs" of D'Backs P Edwin Jackson's no-hitter. The move was an "insulting disservice to the track audience," as nothing is "more galling for a sports fan than being engrossed in a live event only to have it hijacked in mid-flight." The offense was "compounded when, after a seven-minute baseball cut-in, the network went directly to 'Baseball Tonight,' forcing the track audience to wait another 39 minutes to see a 60-second recap of the 5,000 and results of the 100-meter dash." ESPN Senior VP/Programming & Acquisitions Len DeLuca said the net has "created a habit and a brand equity with fans knowing that ESPN will carry the ultimate moment of a breaking news story." He also cited "competition from the MLB Network, which was updating the Jackson situation throughout the game." DeLuca also said the decision to air the final outs of Jackson's no-hitter "was the right idea, but badly executed." DeLuca: "We did a disservice to the track and field fan. We went too early. We should have finished the 5K race, thrown to the bottom of the ninth, promising an update of the track immediately following the cut-in" (ESPN.com, 7/8).

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