Media Needs Rivalries, Too

fox-sports-1Every great has to have a rival.

Who would Bird have been without Magic, Ali without Frazier, Jordan without the Bad Boy Pistons, Tom without Jerry, the Force without the Dark Side or Batman without the Joker?

The answer is, something much less than the legends they became. That’s because, without that opposite force driving them to work harder they would have accepted being good enough. That’s fine for a short period of time but eventually good enough becomes mediocre due to complacency.

It can happen in any career, in any industry and to anyone. With few exceptions, when a person or group no longer feels challenged, no matter how much talent they have, they will regress to a level that requires the least amount of effort necessary.

Take ESPN for example. Over the last two decades they went from the innovative and unique “Worldwide Leader in Sports” to a complacent network predicated on arguments that have less imagination than an accountant in a comma.

Fans want to embrace debate about as much as they want to embrace a saguaro cactus in the middle of the desert. The ratings have proven that recently. The biggest reason for all of this? The fact that no one has truly mounted a challenge to the four-letter network’s dominance since it went on the air in 1979. Sure, CNNSI tried and more recently NBC and CBS threw their hats into the ring. However, it wasn’t until the last few months that a genuine rival has emerged thanks to Rupert Murdoch’s pockets that are deeper than Morgan Freeeman’s voice while narrating a documentary.

Fans want to embrace debate about as much as they want to embrace a saguaro cactus in the middle of the desert

FOX Sports 1 has emerged on the scene and made an entrance louder and more flashy than a WWE wrestler and that’s before they’ve even broadcast a second of programming. The network announced deals with numerous leagues to air games, something other competitors never really had. They also are unveiling a nightly highlight-based show from day one with proven talent, all be it imported talent from Canada. Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole are aduo who have hosted TSN’s SportsCentre in a manner very reminiscent of Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick’s “Big Show.” (A show that any sports fan who grew up in the 90’s would love to relive.)

Will Fox Sports 1 defeat ESPN? Probably not. But the point is, they don’t need to. By being a legitimate No. 2 option they will force the “mothership” to strive to be elite once again. ESPN will no longer acceptmediocrity and place things like First Take, Around the Horn, the New York vs. Boston rivalry and talent like Skip Bayless and Max Kellerman on a pedestal. The first example of this-is the re-hiring of Keith Olbermann. The fact is that ESPN took a very large gamble, one that many on the Bristol campus seemed about as comfortable with as a Red Sox fan inviting a Yankees fan to his home. The anchors new show “Olbermann” will air in the coveted 11 p.m. slot on ESPN 2 at the same time as both SportsCenter and Fox Sports 1’s highlight show. It’s the first outside of the box and interesting thing they have done in years. When someone or something is out of it’s comfort zone that’s when true creativity can happen. Which is precisely what is happening.

At this point you’re probably wondering what this has to do with Arizona sports. As with everything on this blog there is a local motive to it. This market is falling prey to the same complacency seen on a national level. It’s not by anyone’s fault necessarily. There are only a few “big boys” in town each operating in different mediums (written, video and audio). True competitors need to emerge in order for this city to claim it’s spot as a top media market. Fans must demand it in order to get the coverage and stories that they truly want and the voices they really want to hear.

If interesting and unique rivals don’t emerge, then we’ll have to accept the status quo and that’s not good for anyone business and fans included.