The co-author of a much-anticipated book about ESPN, Jim Miller, linked this photo to his Twitter account recently and called it the book’s working cover.:
Reading about the documentation of the manufacturing of a sports media monolith isn’t my cup of tea. That is, unless Dan Patrick is around to talk freely about his experience at ESPN, which he did for the book. (Not a coincidence he’s top left in the photo.)
Just this week the former SportsCenter anchor’s candor when it comes to his career at ESPN - and his untimely departure - was on display in a profile on the rise of his daily Direct TV show and during the show itself.
Speaking to Eric Deggans of Indiana University’s National Sports Journalism Center, Patrick offered the following appetizers:
On October 25, Patrick’s show will become available on 25 more regional sports networks owned by Fox Sports, Comcast and MSG – a deal that marks the first time DirecTV has sold one of its original shows into the syndication.
And if this latest move with The Dan Patrick Show works out, he expects it won’t be long before he’s dealing with The Mothership once again. If you have a concept, they will eventually swallow it up and make it theirs,” he said. “I guess you’re supposed to take that as a compliment; ‘Wow ESPN stole your idea.’ I’ve already heard from some of their talent who are curious about how I pulled this off. I think they hope I succeed so they’ll have a place to land, too.”
Patrick hinted that his departure was at least partly due to his unwillingness to cede the uniqueness of his personality to ESPN’s fastidious, branding overlords:
While some at ESPN may act as if they supported the franchise which eventually helped define the network from Day One, Patrick remembers it differently. He talked of being reprimanded for acting on air as if they were bigger than the network, warned to stop calling their program “The Big Show” and instead remind viewers “This is SportsCenter.”
(They wound up saying the phrase in such a sarcastically overblown way, it became a catchphrase in ways the executives hardly intended.)
“I remember walking out of that meeting saying ‘I’ve got three kids; I can’t get fired,’” Patrick said. “Olbermann looked over and said ‘F— ‘em.’ He gave me the guts to let me be who I was. And it should have been embraced a lot more than it was.”
So in 2007, Patrick decided to close the book on 18 years in Bristol, Conn., and move on, building a new show that broadcasts in a studio one mile from his house and allows him to be at home for dinner almost every night.
Then there was Patrick this week referring on his show to ESPN’s practice of “confirming” news broken by other main media outlets. Patrick cited ESPN’s most-recent poaching of the news of the Randy Moss trade - which was reported first by Jay Glazer of FOX Sports.
Audio of Patrick’s comments:
“Glazer had it before everybody else did. This confirmed nonsense with some of these other guys (ESPN). .. It bothers me when I see that because I think people who work hard should be rewarded and if Glazer got the pelt here, give him credit. Don’t you think Glazer confirmed his sources before he reported this?
“You’re confirming Glazer’s confirmation of his sources? It’s lazy work. Almost all these big stories, Glazer breaks them … then people at the mothership (ESPN) say, ‘How did he .. ?’ … I’ve been in those meetings (at ESPN), I’ve seen it happen.”
Patrick’s criticism of Bristol underlines what happens when an organization has no legitimate competition. Much like an athlete making an off-field misjudgement because he believes he’s bulletproof, ESPN thinks it can do no wrong.
Until ESPN feels financial accountability for its ever-increasing editorial and managerial arrogance, nothing will change internally at Bristol. But that same irresponsibility is doing nothing but emboldening possible competitors, meaning ESPN’s death grip on the industry could slip sooner than anyone in Bristol could possibly fathom.