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An Open Letter to ESPN

Date: 1/7/2010

Posted By: Dukies.com, Department of Wanting to Watch on Television What's Supposed to Be on Television

ESPN, Inc.
Viewer Response
ESPN Plaza
Bristol, CT 06010

Dear Sirs:

I am a 1992 graduate of Duke University ("Duke"), located in Durham, North Carolina.  I invest a substantial portion of my leisure time following Duke's men's basketball program, to the extent that I have created and (since 1999) operated a site on the World Wide Web devoted to coverage of the team.  Frequently, I enjoy following Duke via telecasts on the ESPN family of networks.  

On January 6, 2010, you purported to broadcast one such game, held between Duke and Iowa State University at the United Center in Chicago.  The game was, at least in part, carried on ESPN2.  Unfortunately, during halftime of the contest, you made a curious bradcasting choice that I found highly dissatsifying, even outrageous.

As you are aware, the University of Kansas men's basketball team was hosting Cornell University on its home court in Lawrence, Kansas while the Duke-Iowa State game was in progress.  For reasons that were not entirely apparent, Kansas found itself in a spirited battle with Cornell.  The Big Red were tied with and even led the Jayhawks as the end of regulation approached.

Laudably, you chose to forego the typical in-studio halftime analysis to treat your ESPN2 viewers to "bonus coverage" of the Cornell-Kansas game.  Watching at home, I found your devotion to keeping your viewers informed of other potentially interesting Division I men's college basketball action to be quite admirable.  Little did I know what was about to occur.

Incredibly, you chose to carry the "bonus coverage" of the Cornell-Kansas game until that contest concluded.  This necessarily included uninterrupted shots of several gripping team huddles during a series of late-game timeouts, interspersed with shots of the understandably concerned fans in Lawrence.  (In fairness to them, they doubtless had no idea that ESPN was unexpectedly covering their every facial expression.)  Strangely, you also chose, at intervals, to substitute the commentary of your in-studio commentators, Jimmy Dykes and Steve Lavin, for the audio feed from Lawrence.  Dykes and Lavin were also graciously allowed to add more than a few closing comments after time had expired in Lawrence, and Kansas had nailed down its victory.  Following all of this, you took the time to show us one promo for your women's basketball coverage, followed by two commercials.  You then finally and abruptly rejoined the Duke-Iowa State game, with the second half, as the phrase goes, already in progress, and in fact well underway.  In all, ESPN2's viewers were unable to watch 5:57 of timed action of the Blue Devils-Cyclones game.     

At no time during the "bonus coverage" did you advise, for example via an on-screen graphic, that viewers could tune to full and continuing Duke-Iowa State coverage on ESPN 360.com.  Even if you had, this would not have helped those of us who occasionally find it more convenient to watch televised sporting events after their conclusion, via the use of in-home digital video recording and playback technology.  This practice has, as you may be aware, become quite common.              

In the future, if you feel tempted to bring us "bonus coverage" that becomes primary, and supersedes portions of the actual, non-"bonus" coverage that you have advertised to viewers that you will be broadcasting, may I be so bold as to offer the following suggestions?

(1)  Show the "bonus coverage" in such a way that it does not interfere with the primary event that you are supposed to be televising.  For example, you could show the extra coverage on ESPN News, and advise viewers watching ESPN2 to tune to ESPN News instead, if they are interested in, e.g., seeing the nation's #1 team struggle to put away a scrappy, visiting Ivy League squad.  Interestingly, upon information and belief, you did show the Cornell-Kansas game on ESPN News on January 6.  It is not immediately clear why you also felt the need to show the "bonus coverage" on ESPN2 at the same time, in lieu of the feed of the Duke-Iowa State game.   

(2)  With approximately 6:23 remaining in the Duke-Iowa State game - - which, by that time, ESPN2 had thankfully rejoined and refrained from interrupting any further - - you took advantage of a break in game action for free throw administration to show live, simultaneous splitscreen images of two Duke players, sophomore Miles Plumlee and freshman Mason Plumlee.  The Plumlees are brothers.  One assumes that your production team engineered this achievement through the use of two cameras. 

This innovative tactic compels the realization that similar technology could be used during such "bonus coverage" as you deem necessary.  For example, one part of your broadcast image could display the primary game that you are contractually obligated to be televising, in this case Duke-Iowa State.  The other part of the splitscreen image could, at the same time, display contemporaneous events occurring elsewhere.  Presumably, if ESPN is capable of showing live depictions of two brothers in different areas of the same facility and at the same time via this device, you may also possess the ability to utilize it for broader purposes.  It also occurs to me that I have seen the same sort of technological gambit used on other networks during sporting events, if never on an ESPN affiliate that I can recall.               

I hope you will find these suggestions helpful.  It is troublesome enough that, for years, ESPN has insisted on scheduling college basketball games, which nearly always take in excess of two hours to play, to be shown exactly two hours apart - - instead of, for example, adding a thirty-minute "buffer zone" between telecasts and preventing any overlap in game action.  (In an unrelated story, it appears that fans of men's basketball at Duke and the Georgia Institute of Technology will be victimized this coming Saturday by this exact, now-legendary practice on ESPN's part.)  However, your broadcast choices on January 6 have broken entirely new ground.     

In conclusion, please note my awareness that I am very lucky to be a fan of a team that is televised as often as Duke.  In no way do I wish to seem "spoiled."  However, I believe I am within my rights to expect you to broadcast specific game action when you contract to do so, or provide reasonable alternatives in the event of a baffling decision such as this one.   I am confident that most Iowa State fans, who were forced to watch a rival program in their conference instead of enjoying the early second half of a game involving their own team, would agree.  

Thank you for your time. 


Los Angeles, California


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Posted by: SanFranSoxFan Date: 1/9/2010 1:26:46 AM  
Bios at the bottom, as opposed to the menu bar on the left. Of course. And a link in them to the FAQ's (which no one would bother clicking at the bottom of the menu bar at the left, having clicked on a number of links above it that are still under development!). Bios and FAQ's were very entertaining and explained a lot, particularly the success one can achieve in web design when lawyers are involved (well, that should add a year to my white-list waiting period). Well done, lads. PS - nice to see a BoSox connection... shoulda known.

Posted by: duhomme Date: 1/8/2010 9:14:39 PM  
san fran, there are bios. just scroll to the bottom of the page and look for the "about dukies.com" button.

Posted by: bluedevilruss Date: 1/8/2010 1:31:37 PM  
one word: epic

Posted by: SanFranSoxFan Date: 1/8/2010 11:16:53 AM  
matt & duhomme - duhomme's reply is icing on the cake of what is a very, very funny piece. And as a bonus, the whole dukies.com site's reason for being comes clear! At least one of you is class of '92. Of course that makes you deservedly spoiled rotten (Final Four, Championship Game, Champion, Champion - add another Final Four if you were on the 5-year plan). Only 2-year grad students (91/92) like my wife have a higher slugging percentage than you. I suppose a bio somewhere on this site would be a nice idea? There are enough followers now (20 even seriously underemployed people could never juke this site to the tune of a couple thousand hits a week) that you have people like me who don't know you.

Posted by: duhomme Date: 1/8/2010 1:44:15 AM  
matt, this is possibly the funniest thing ever to appear on this site. unfortunately, i missed part of the second half of your article as my browser redirected me to "two jayhawkies pick the big 12" for about five minutes and there was nothing i could do about it.

Posted by: T. Randall Taylor Date: 1/7/2010 1:25:47 PM  
Much more eloquent than my response, which amounted to various permutations of that old anglo saxon epithet, shouted loudly enough at the TeeVee to drive the dogs out into the wintry night.

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