Deadspin writers make their living criticizing ESPN, so it stands to reason they would jab the worldwide leader when it was announced that the NFL Network and ESPN have told their reporters not to tweet team’s draft picks before the choices are announced on broadcast. Why would ESPN ask its journalists to stop doing their jobs?
Deadspin makes the case that ESPN is doing this at the behest of the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell. The logic could be that the NFL wants more eyeballs and higher ratings to enforce the strength of the brand.
That probably isn’t the entire reason. Sure, it’s a nice show of power for the NFL when its draft broadcast (where the most action is draftees shaking Goodell’s hand) beats out the NBA and NHL playoffs in ratings. And if the NFL is going to limit its own reporters in favor of televised programming, it makes some sense that ESPN should do the same as a broadcast partner. Critics say it’s essentially kowtowing to the NFL.
However, there is a bigger reason to limit ESPN employee tweets: ESPN has to provide an ROI for its own corporate partners. The more eyeballs on ESPN, the higher the company can charge for advertisements and presenting sponsorships. ESPN can also promote its future programming. ESPN likely isn’t limiting tweets because the NFL wants it to. Limiting its reporters is what is best for ESPN’s business interests. Although ESPN is the biggest sports news outlet in the world, the E still stands for entertainment.
ESPN has said it is only responding to NFL fans’ desires for more suspense, but does finding out who the Bengals drafted a minute earlier than the announcement really ruin anything? Furthermore, fans who want suspense can avoid social media, they don’t need ESPN to black out news to create that suspense. It couldn’t be more simple for fans who like suspense: Don’t go on Twitter.
ESPN is also ignoring the fact that serious fans have a Twitter Rolodex filled with reporters from USA TODAY Sports, NBC Sports, Fox Sports (Jay Glazer anyone?) or CBS Sports. Still, ESPN is doing as much as possible to provide its advertising partners with the best return. If it makes the NFL happy as well, that is great, but this decision was not done just to appease Roger Goodell and the NFL.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.