Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mag Nags

So I get ESPN the Magazine "free" with my subscription to ESPN.com Insider. Normally, I sweep through the entire thing in about 5 minutes because of the ridiculously low amount of actual content contained therein. I get the magazine late for some reason, like a week after it's hit newsstands (I've never complained about this, so you can see how much I care), and I've usually read the in-depth articles about subjects I care about online somehow before I've gotten the actual magazine. So it's basically a waste of postage and space in my bathroom/on my coffee table.

This week's (I think... I'm not sure when it's supposed to be delivered - it's the one with Reggie Bush and Vince Young on the cover) issue, however, is kind of interesting for a couple of reasons.

And the good side of interesting, the magazine has some actual content that is worth reading. Specifically, and unlike the magazine 95% of the time, there seemed to be more articles and fewer advertisements for colognes and poker websites. And the articles were actually decent:

  • The day-by-day preview of the Winter Olympics even seemed worth hanging on to. I've never said that about an issue before.
  • The Dan LeBatard column about Cecil Collins lacked a lot of things, but it did offer us the information that "The Diesel" doesn't get raped in prison. That, my friends, is why print journalists will always have the upper hand on bloggers.
  • Then there was a fascinating chart (I have no idea how they polled this) breaking down how fans of particular NFL teams are rooting in the Super Bowl. One of the most interesting things about that grid was how fans slightly tended to support the conference, but fans in the Northeast and Midwest overwhelmingly supported the Steelers (even the Browns fans, who had the highest percentage rooting for the Steelers of any team - aren't they local rivals?). Meanwhile, teams out West and down South supported the Seahawks. Jacksonville had the highest support for the Seahawks in the AFC. It hinted, to me at least, that there is a sports-cultural divide between the Atlantic Seaboard and Great Lakes area on one side, and the rest of us on the other.
  • The "NEXT" athletes are listed, and while some were obvious (Bush, Young, Michelle Wie) there were actually several interesting choices: EJ and Gooch from the USMNT, Matt Schaub, Justin Upton, Sidney Rice (whom I fear greatly this coming Sept.) and the best choice of all, 70 year old video gamer Barbara St. Hillaire (note to the Lady: my google search for "Old + Grandma + Hardcore" was looking for this and not the vast majority of the 2.3 Million results).
  • There's a decent article that I wish had been much longer (another thing I've never thought about an ESPN the Mag article) about prep schools and athlete factories. Feldman goes to Hargrave and Fork Union, they visit Stratton Mtn. School, and they mention local baseball mill East Cobb Baseball. I didn't play there growing up, but I've got a ton of connections to that program. The bit on East Cobb (and really all of them) focuses more on the successes of individuals and the positives, and there can probably be 25,000 word exposes on the problems at each of these places (East Cobb especially).

Unfortunately, there's also a bad side of "interesting". ESPN the Magazine has never been a place where journalism meant more than cross-promotion. It's pretty much the raison d'etre for the damn thing. And this issue offers plenty of opportunities to shill for the corporate father, and that doesn't even include the Super Bowl on ABC coverage. Here are a few spots:

  • A huge, two-page spread giving "Total Access" to the readers in regard to Jerry Rice's preparation for "Dancing With The Stars". Awkwardly inserted, of no interest to the readers, clearly shilling. Though I respect the photos of Anna Trebunskaya (Love them redheads... /Wooderson).
  • Large ads for the following ESPN/ABC/Disney products: ABC's Sunday NBA coverage; ESPN's NFL Draft Guide publication; ESPN Mobile Phone (2 full pages); ESPN's Viewer's Guide (no sports programs apparently happen on any channels other than ABC and ESPN, like, say, the Winter Olympics); ESPN's coverage of the Bassmaster Classic; ESPN Books ads (multiple smaller ads); ESPN's Golf Schools.
  • Also, and this might be completely coincidental, but there are a ton of ads in this issue that are for the same products hyped in Super Bowl commercials (The ESPN mobile phone, Gillette Fusion has 3 full pages, the new Cadillac Escalade has 2 full pages, Full Throttle energy drink). It almost seems like these companies went to ABC and said, "Fine, we'll pay $2.5 million for 30 seconds, but at least throw in a few pages of your shitter rag."
  • Typically the most loathesome section of the magazine is "The Jump", a way for this Magazine to tell us what we should think is cool. And surprisingly enough, that often means products hocked by the parent company, like ESPN brand video games and shit. This week, no different. Sam Alipour's TV column features at least two snide comments about upcoming TV shows on networks not owned by ABC/ESPN: The Paul Shirley sitcom in development by Fox and the spoof of Sportscenter on Comedy Central (Viacom). Then there's also some space devoted to how awesome the ESPN mobile phone is, in case you missed the enormous advertisement a few pages before.
  • I know what you're thinking... in case you're like me and you waste brain space on bullshit like this. "Not so fast, LD. Bill Simmons wrote a very critical column about Glory Road, a Disney movie." True. And it pulled no punches. It criticized the film from an approach clearly directed at the parent company (they screwed with the story in Hollywood, unnecessarily).
  • But then on the VERY NEXT PAGE of the magazine, we have Stuart Scott's interactive column. The single most groan-inducing thing in print today. One of the questions: "Yo Stu - Seen Glory Road yet: Best sports movie of all time, in my opinion" - TG, Carson City Nevada. Yeah. Better than Rocky, Hoosiers, Slap Shot, Caddyshack, Hoop Dreams, etc. Can someone really say this with a straight face? Oh, and how does Stu respond? "It's one of my fave sports movies too, right there with Remember the Titans, but I still give a slight edge to Brian's Song and Rocky." Let me add that Remember the Titans was also a Disney film and Brian's Song was recently given the remake treatment by ABC (and is a frequent repeat on ABC Family). Nice. There's an entire post on the rest of Stu's column that I'll have maybe later this week. I think his take on booing is utter garbage.

Now, let me go into a little more specificity on the cross-promotion stuff. I don't blame them for doing it. In fact, I think they'd be fools not to. But I realize what they're doing and I can consider the rest of the writing in the proper frame of reference. I hope that most readers realize what's going on here. But also, there is some interesting stuff in the magazine this week, or at least more than normal.