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The Tragedy Of Commercialism In College Sports

4098 words - 16 pages

The Tragedy of Commercialism in College Sports


Over the past 25 years, ESPN has become the master when it comes to marketing college basketball. They're the professionals of this amateur game. Earlier this spring ESPN and its spinoffs ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN Classic aired a record 97 conference tournament men's basketball games over an eight day period, including 16 games broadcast from 10 different locations on March 12 (Hiestand). For fans of the sport ESPN has become a college hoops haven. CBS may garner the most attention for its $6 billion 11-year contract, which gives the network exclusive broadcasting rights for the season-ending men's NCAA tournament, but it is ESPN, which is responsible for the game's dramatic rise in popularity.

Before ESPN launched in September of 1979, college basketball games on TV were hard to find and national broadcasts of the sport were unheard of. Back then, ESPN, was a start-up cable network looking for cheap programming to fill it's 24-hours of airtime and although it was unable to break-in with contracts from any of the four major professional leagues, ESPN found its gold mine in college basketball. The result, 25 years later both ESPN and college basketball have reached the stratosphere of sports broadcasting. This past season, ESPN and its franchise of stations aired over 350 men's college basketball games, and at a time when ratings for most sporting events are declining, ESPN's college basketball ratings have gone up for the third consecutive season (Timmermann). The public is buying college basketball, and ESPN is more than happy to sell it to them. Want a game? Just name the day of the week and ESPN can deliver it to you. Thanks to ESPN, Big Monday, Super Tuesday, ACC Wednesday and Throwdown Thursday are all regulars on the college basketball calendar. Over the course of the season, ESPN packages its standout games around promotional weeks: the Big-Ten-ACC Challenge leads off the season, followed by Rivalry Week, Judgement Week and the granddaddy of them all, Championship Week, a prelude to the basketball madness held during the first week of March. ESPN has made superstars out of college basketball coaches and even TV analysts like Dick Vitale. The station has created national followings for some of the sports elite programs. Want to watch Duke? Just flip on ESPN or ESPN2, where the Blue Devils had 16 of their regular-season games televised last season (Timmermann). The relationship that ESPN has forged with college basketball is both symbiotic and parasitic. The mutual benefit is obvious; ESPN has successfully launched itself as a primer cable sports network and thanks to the network, college basketball has become one of the most profitable collegiate sports, rivaling the once invincible college football. But ESPN has built its empire off the labor of unpaid college athletes. The increasing dollar-amount of TV contracts and growing commercialism in college basketball is proof that ESPN is...

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