Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tackling the East Coast Bias

Sitting in one of my various Psychology classes, the subject turned to the psychology of love. Without getting into the dirty details (there are some interesting perspectives on the topic), one of the main points is that people fall in love with people that they come into contact with. Sounds simple enough. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl because he sees and interacts with her all the time, and boy marries girl that he sees everyday. It's such a simple idea that I laughed at my textbook. I seriously laughed. It's absurdly obvious. A boy in California is not going to fall in love with a girl from Mongolia. Simple stuff.

Yet I find myself wondering if this "idea" (its less of an idea and more like common sense) has bigger implications then we realize. This being The Point After and everything, I'm sure you can see where I'm taking this. Sports allegiances have a ton to do with where you were born. Geography is everything. Born in Los Angeles? You have a couple of options to choose from in terms of which team you follow, but if you're born in a smaller city, like Kansas City, you follow the Royals. That's it. Sure there are other ways in determining your allegiance, such as family in another city, you like the team colors, or perhaps the worst reason that I hear all too often, "They just won a lot of championships when I was younger and they were the best team so I decided to follow them". I'm not here to play judge and jury on fandom, but find a better reason, please.

I digress. Anyways, you like, love, and die for a team because they play every night on TV. Walking down the street you see their banners, their memorabilia, maybe even one of their players having lunch if you're lucky. Your parents teach you to love the home team and despise those other teams. Those other teams are filled with bad men, they club baby seals, and they will cheat their way to victory. You love these teams because you are simply around them. All the time. And you don't like other teams because you simply don't hear about them all too often.

So what's the deal ESPN? If this question seems out of place, let me explain. Baseball is a game of narratives. The games, viewed individually, can sometimes be a dull affair. I absolutely love baseball but I will concede this fact. I sometimes fall asleep for innings at a time. My mind wanders. It happens. But over the course of a season, the stories form, and every team is an open book. Of course I'm partial to one team, and the opposite of that for some teams (I'm looking at you Dodgers). But that doesn't mean I don't mind a good story. My problem is that millions of people who don't have the time to scour box scores and blogs and other forms of research and watch Sportscenter to keep up with the sporting world are being kept from "reading" these stories.

Perhaps you know what I'm alluding to. It's referred to on the West Coast as "East Coast Bias". Certain teams are covered much more extensively then all the others. And by certain teams, I'm talking about the Big 4. The Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and the Mets (although less so now). For now I have the biggest beef with the first two. The Yankees-Red Sox rivaly. Everyone knows about it. It's a great rivalry. Some might say the best, although for right now I give that title to Dodgers-Giants. That's an issue for another day. The point is that during any given night of Baseball tonight or Sportscenter, the first twenty minutes of the program are an inning by inning deconstruction of each game. If they are playing each other? It's a game by game prediction, followed by needs of each team, what Jeter has for lunch each day, etc. etc. The ESPN Sunday Night Baseball features either the Yankees or Red Sox about 80% of the time (not an exact figure, but pretty close, I dare you to look it up). During nationally televised games, the majority of the country is forced to watch Yankees or Red Sox games while there are perhaps better pitching matchups elsewhere that they would rather watch.

It has to stop. "But what about ratings! Everyone loves the Yankees and Red Sox!" you all cry out. People only care about the Yankees and Red Sox because ESPN has dictated that these are the teams you should care about. Sure, they are the largest markets, but I assure you that sports fans love good sport more then they care about the Yankees and Red Sox. If ESPN spent more time covering all of the unique stories across the country, there would be better ratings for a say, Giants-Rangers World Series (Ask any Giants or Rangers fan about their team. I'm sure you'll get sucked into the story of either club)

Please ESPN, I implore you to go out and educate others about the teams that are perhaps a little less followed. You will find a hitter in Toronto who is hitting the ball well and walking at a Bondsian rate (I dont give out this praise cheaply). You will find a Giants team that is filled with strange characters. I'm sure you'll even find something of note in Pittsburgh. It won't make people fall in love with these teams mind you, but maybe you'll spark an interest in the great narrative of Americas Past Time. Spark an interest, and I'm sure you're precious ratings will be there. If you build it, they most definitely will come.


Stephen Pinone said...

ESPN like any other company is looking for straight cash homie (randy moss) east coast markets like Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, DC, Boston. Have large masses of people which brings in large advertising dollars! Honestly the sport is not what matters to fat cats at ESPN it's the cash that goes with it. Also this is argueably the reason why the big east conference has the majority of its games on the ESPN family of networks. Simple equation: Large Markets + Decents Teams + Bud Light and Coca-Cola Ads = $$$$$$$$$$

Ryan Irwin said...

Its a good point that money is what makes the world go round. As it currently stands, covering the major cities (NY and BOS) does bring in the most revenue.

Lets do a little thought experiment though. There are over 8 million people that live in New York. Some of them are Mets fans, but lets say that 6 million people of them are yankee fans. Now lets say for the rest of the country, Ill be generous and say there are 15 million people not living in New York that are yankees fans. Now, if everyone who loved the yankees tuned it that gives you a whopping 21 million people. Pretty good.

But, what would happen if ESPN went through the effort to put out a product that would not only report on sports, but educate its audience in a way that would allow them to enjoy every teams story. Lets say that if they did this, only 10 percent of America bought into it. 10 percent thought that every team was worthwhile to watch, and that there was entertainment to be found in every game. Even if 90 percent of america said "No, we want to see the yankees and red sox and nobody else", 10 percent of the US is 30+ million people.

Seems to me that that would give ESPN/Fox the ratings they desire no matter which teams were playing.

Sean Devlin said...

Pittsburgh is West Virgina with taller buildings. Take it easy. There's an East Coast bias because there are simply more people.

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