ESPN's graphics department thinks you're an idiot

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(TNT: Blazers @ Lakers, Game 2, 2001 -- They don't make scoreboard bugs like this anymore)

It was about thirteen years ago that CNN started featuring a news ticker on the bottom of the TV screen. Many people complained that the non-stop line of text was annoying, a waste of space, and a constant distraction from the actual program going on behind it. And yet here we are in 2010, and the crawl is more prevalent than ever. Every news station imaginable features a crawl, including local sports stations, cable news channels, and pretty much anything that dishes out information. ESPN is the undisputed king of the crawl -- it's there on all four of their channels (ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN U, ESPN Classic) and only disappears during select programming, such as their 30 For 30 documentary series, or games one-through-six of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It was right around the advent of the crawl that another innovation started appearing: a permanent scoreboard bug during sports games. In the olden days, networks would only briefly flash the scoreboard before waving it off and focusing entirely on the sport. But now the scoreboard would stay on the screen throughout the game -- giving fans an immediate indication on where things stood.

The timing of these innovations was not coincidental. The Internet was taking the world by storm, and the television needed to catch up. Gone were the days where people would have to wait for the news to arrive at their doorstep; now people could get the news whenever they wanted, preferably immediately. People didn't want to wait for a news piece to air or for the score to pop up in a couple minutes. They wanted the score NOW.

At first, sports scoreboards were solely for convenience. They were small, hip, and pretty much stayed out of the way of the action in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. But then marketing experts discovered something. They realized that people were more likely to watch a program with a ticker in it, not so much because of the information it provided, but because the constant motion of the ticker subliminally convinced viewers to keep watching. Suddenly, the crawl was more valuable as a piece of wallpaper than as an actual source of information, and the same (unfortunately) was true of the sports scoreboard.

Since then, the scoreboard has become an inseparable part of sports telecasts. And as the ubiquity of its use increased, so did the size of the bugs, as well as the information it provided. Eventually, the bugs stopped hiding in the corner of the screen, and they began taking up more and more room, until they finally morphed into a colossal mess of letters and digits that aimed to be flashier than the sport it was covering...

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Which brings me to ABC's scoreboard for the 2010 NBA Finals. You may see the above as a reasonable block of information; I see it as a ransom note to your intelligence. This thing is no longer just a helpful little on-screen guide -- it's become a monster out for world domination, one that aims to hypnotize you, leave you blind and rob you of your lunch money. This scoreboard does nothing but take up space, and a lot of it at that. It's not intended for the well-to-do sports fan who wants to be kept informed; it's intended for a freshly-lobotomized layman who's never seen an NBA game in his life.

Let's start with its biggest problem: there's an entire line devoted to nothing but the words, "THE FINALS - SERIES TIED 1-1." This little line would be completely unnecessary if ABC thought you liked -- heaven forbid -- basketball. I mean, it would only make sense that you didn't know what you were watching, since ABC doesn't do it on any of their other programs. If you watch Dancing With the Stars, you'll notice that there isn't a giant show-long graphic that just says: "DANCING WITH THE STARS - FINAL ROUND." And why? Because they expect you to know what round it is and what show you're watching. Sadly, the NBA Finals -- the highest-rated June series the past thirty some-odd years -- doesn't get the same respect.

And honestly, if you don't know that you're watching an NBA Finals game, how big of a sports fan can you be -- or more appropriately, how smart can you be? The show is listed in the TV Guide and on your digital cable guide as the NBA Finals. Both basketball hoops have the Finals logo embedded on it; the players sit on chairs with the logo on it; ABC uses the Finals logo on the intro and outro bumpers; the Finals logo is embroidered on the player's uniforms, and occasionally pops up on the scorer's table; the announcers reference what game it is every couple minutes. Hell, it's even written on the freakin' floor! But no, ABC doesn't expect you to look at the hardwood with "The Finals" on it, gentle viewer. It's okay. We'll tell you for you. Now go to sleep and take your morphine.

And if that's not enough, ABC even posts a logo of the NBA Finals on-screen, directly next to the 24-second shot clock. This logo can only be intended for the viewer who couldn't be bothered to look at the Finals logo on the basketball court, or even the "THE FINALS" graphic two inches above the screen, which is also two inches below the Finals logo on the basketball court.

Rounding out the redundancy issue is the ridiculous ESPN logo on the actual bug, with the ABC logo directly next to it. ESPN? ABC? My god, I don't know what channel I'm watching. Perhaps I mistakenly turned to ESPN -- that network that makes those great SportsCenter commercials. Sweet! It's a good thing I'm not watching ABC. I hate that channel. (Seriously, I understand that ABC subsidized their sports division awhile back, and that "ABC Sports" doesn't really exist anymore -- it's just ESPN. But come on. Is the network so lazy that they can't even be bothered to remove the ESPN channel logo? How long would that have taken? Two seconds?)

You may read this article as a sarcastic rant, but it's intended to be a public service message. There has to be a point when we as viewers put our foot down and stop the invasion that the scoreboard has launched. It used to be that just the score and the time were enough. Now we need the color of the teams indicated, as well as which game the teams are playing and, in the case of football, how many timeouts are left. What's next? The heart rates of the players and coaches? A second seemingly-useless line, perhaps one that regales viewers with the history of the orange basketball? I can only imagine that in twenty years, sports scoreboards will be like medical charts and will consume roughly half the screen while the actual subject goes on in a little box.

It'll be like The Situation Room.

Stray Thoughts

  • ABC's babying of its sports viewers goes beyond the scoreboard. As the lead-out to many commercial breaks, the network will actually thank you for watching the NBA on ABC. Have you ever seen another TV station praise you for tuning in to their program? It's as if they're literally saying, "We don't like the NBA and had no expectations going in that anyone did either. You really surprised us, viewer. Way to go!"
  • The annoying part about the wide, screen-hogging scoreboard is that ABC uses a condensed version of it during the timeouts-remaining breakdown that's WAY better:

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Why can't that be the regular scoreboard? Well, through the power of crappy Internet editing, it can...

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Shazam! My god, just look at this thing. There's zero NBA Finals indicators instead of two, and there's only one channel logo. And it's small! The original font and number sizes were ginormous, but this one's slick and lean. And... it's small. Oh well...

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