Clay Travis, of Outkick the Coverage, recently declared the death of ESPN. While his thesis might be a little melodramatic, Travis poses an important question for the future of sports media: will the journalistic middle men still be relevant in the future or will sports leagues decide en masse to skip the ESPNs of the world and communicate directly with their publics?
Travis cites, as evidence of this trend, the leagues that have already created their own cable networks. MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, the Big Ten, and – perhaps most alarmingly – the Texas Longhorns all have their own cable networks at this point. (Granted, the Longhorn Network is a partnership with ESPN.) Other teams that aren’t directly targeting their fans through traditional cable TV often provide online, subscription-based services to feed their games immediately to their consumers.
This direct targeting of teams’ individual nations – made much simpler through online social networking – could be really positive for the teams, really negative for traditional sports journalists, and potentially disastrous for anybody who cares about ethics in sports.
Traditionally, the middle man function of journalists has not simply been one of direct conduction; instead, journalists have historically acted as watchdogs of news, attempting to keep newsmakers honest. If teams communicate directly with their fans, then that role may no longer be fulfilled.
According to Travis, ESPN has already foregone that responsibility – out of fear of upsetting their important league partners. If he’s right and this is an increasing trend, the sports world could see the return of a brand of irresponsibility and lawlessness that has largely been restrained and chastised in sports for decades.
Even with 24/7 coverage of every Chris Johnson Tweet and Kenny Britt Facebook update, plenty of athletes still find their way into trouble. If they have no fear of exposure by the media, athletes and teams may become even more reckless.