Posted by: gbake783 | June 15, 2011

The Bottom Line: a Modest Proposal

It’s a technological collision – a distinctly modern annoyance exacerbated by a mild-to-moderate sports addiction. Considering life’s realities, it’s probably not even worth writing about. Hence, a modest request.

What follows might be interpreted as a complaint. It’s not – just reality. Like any pastor, I spend a lot of time with people on nights and weekends, which is a part of the ministry I very much enjoy. And I’m not just saying that because I’m supposed to – scout’s honor (my dad is an Eagle Scout, afterall). If I want to spend time with people, I need to be available when they are.

So … it’s unusual for me to watch an entire live sporting event. I almost always watch at least part of it taped on my DVR (funny how “taped” has survived 80’s VHS parlance – one time my dad made my mom to tape a Miami-Florida State football game; she accidentally taped Gunsmoke instead). Throw in a toddler and I’ve actually grown so accustomed to watching recorded sports events that  I instinctively try to skip the commercials of the live ones. Insert Pavlov joke here.

And this is precisely where two technological advances collide – the ESPN Bottom Line and my DVR.

The ESPN Bottom Line (EBL) is a scrolling marquee at the bottom of any ESPN telecast that updates fans on all things sports – news, scores, stats, and programming information. I think ESPN does good job balancing the information flow – the notable exception being Brett Favre’s annual late-summer melodrama. Ten years ago, before high-speed internet and mobile phone apps were affordable (or maybe I was just a poor grad student), I relied on the EBL. I didn’t have to wait for the next day’s newspaper or login to my work account (high-speed at work!).

Fast forward ten years and, for me, at least, the EBL is an unnecessary nuisance.

It’s unnecessary because I can get my scores much faster from either my phone or my computer. Dish Network even has a free interactive feature where I can scroll through scores as I watch . . . without even changing the channel. Amazing.

It’s a nuisance because of my DVR. For example, every autumn Saturday I have two favorite football teams: the South Carolina Gamecocks and Whoever’s Playing Clemson. And both teams are usually on TV. But, as a pastor, I really can’t watch both live. I usually can’t even watch a whole one live. So I tape both. And I watch my Gamecocks first and the University of WPC second. And here’s the rub: if I watch the games out of chronological order, the EBL gives away the score of the game I want to watch later.

I complain about this, of course. My wife says, “Just don’t look.” Every sports fan knows this is impossible.

And then there’s the simulcast situation. For example, my Gamecocks often play during a baseball playoff game. Or, one time, during the World Series. I want to watch both. But the EBL spoils the surprise.

My solution: painters tape. It doesn’t harm the TV and it keeps me from seeing the score. Low tech and virtually free. (Note to anyone trying this: you may need to double the tape – sometimes ESPN’s color code bleeds through, which tells you who wins without seeing the score clearly.)

Painter's tape preserves my innocence: in this case the Baseball Gamecocks play during Game 6 of the NBA Finals

My dark side says ESPN wants this. They don’t want me watching Fox, CBS, or any other sports channel. They want to ruin the drama other networks paid top-dollar to produce. My conspiracy side says ESPN doesn’t want me to watch recorded events because Nike and Gatorade and Under Armor and every other advertiser wants me watching their very expensive commercials instead of happily clicking the “Skip Ahead” button.

But that’s silly. Of course ESPN and her advertisers know they’d better cater to their customers’ whims.

So here’s my modest proposal: an optional Bottom Line. If I can hit the SAP button and listen to my sports in Spanish, then surely ESPN can engineer a button or a channel or something that allows me simply to hide the Bottom Line.

I’m talking to you, ESPN. I want to watch more of your sporting events, not less. Just time delayed.

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