Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Should ESPN Cover Something Just Because It's Popular?

Just to prove that we occasionally post about something other than women's hoops (not that there's anything wrong with that) around here...

ESPN devoted one of their top headlines today to the big story from the MMA world (that's Mixed Martial Arts for those of you who don't know), namely the owners of Ultimate Fighting Championship buying their Japan-based rival, Pride Fighting Championships. It was interesting to check out the reader comments attached to the story (I hate that ESPN.com does that, but that's an entirely different issue) and see dozens of people clamoring for ESPN to cover MMA.

I can already sense the rest of the Committee getting ready to complain about this topic, but hear me out. Even though the UFC has yet to completely shake the negative stigma it earned during its formative years and mainstream press coverage of it has been mixed, to say the least, there's no denying its popularity. UFC pay-per-views easily outpace boxing, and all indications are that they have caught and passed the WWE as well.

There's also no question that UFC is a sport, albeit a violent one, and that its competitors are skilled, highly trained athletes. Even though I have never watched a UFC event and know very little about it, I'd say that as a popular sport, it should be almost mandatory for ESPN to cover it.

I'm too lazy to get numbers to back this up, but I'm going to take an educated guess and bet that more people watch televised MMA programs than the X-Games, WNBA, MLS and Arena Football. Yet ESPN devotes time and coverage to all of these sports. It even sets aside many, many hours of TV programming to poker, which last time I checked (and despite the fact that I am a huge poker afficianado) is not a sport.

It all adds up to yet another example of how ESPN's coverage is increasingly and shamelessly driven by its own self-interests. It's easy to pretend that the AFL and the X-Games are a big deal when you have an ownership stake in them; no problem to promote the MLS and the World Series of Poker when you have the broadcast rights. ESPN continues to cover boxing even though it has clearly slipped behind MMA in terms of popularity because... wait for it... the network shows boxing on its various cable channels.

Again, I'm not a big MMA fan, but I am big on matters of principle. The so-called Worldwide Leader has expanded its own definition of "sport" to suit itself on several occasions, and it's now so wide that MMA easily fits in. If ESPN even wants to pretend it has any journalistic integrity, it needs to cover whatever sports the fans are following.

I expect a UFC section to show up on ESPN.com, but maybe not until we've heard they've signed a contract to be the new home for "The Ultimate Fighter"...


Head Dude said...

Preach on! I can't say I understand MMA, or its popularity, but the point is a correct one -- certainly if poker and X-games are sports, MMA is a sport, and certainly if X-Games are being covered, MMA should be covered.

Cooler Sportsgal said...

If it's popular and actually a sport, why not cover it? The more interesting question is the sports that they make up just for television. I happen to have written a minor treatise for the newspaper a few months ago about televised paintball, where they are literally inventing new game formats based on what shows well on TV.

If anyone cares, here's the link: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06285/729273-28.stm

The Dude said...

I can't stand any sport that involves real combative violence (meaning, i still can watch wrestling). But I'd have no problems with ESPN covering it. Indeed, I have no problems not watching that, along with the X Games, Strongman Competitions, Arena League, soccer, hockey, etc.