Because they can't broadcast the actual games, ESPN struggles every year to find new and exciting ways to cover March Madness. This year they started a Tumblr and it is a sad, corporate attempt to beg for attention — and some LOLs.
Yes, Tumblr is known as the land of 16-year-olds reblogging GIFs of Harry Styles, but it's pretty embarrassing when a legacy media company stoops to that level, if only because they rarely succeed. And ESPN's Tumblr strategy consists of going for low-hanging, immature, meme-inspired laughs rather than offering any sort of useful analysis or pretty pictures — things that work for another sports media brand fighting for attention this time of year: Sports Illustrated.
Let's compare and contrast the two companies' Tumblr offerings. ESPN's posts so far are photoshopping bread, pretzels, and potato chips into the hands of NCAA players because they're trying to make #StarchMadness a thing. Otherwise they have a weird old picture of Scott Van Pelt lustily laying on a pile of computers from the 1990s, and your standard impact font-on-a-picture of Michael Buffer. (Who is probably contacting his lawyers already.) It's like a 40-year-old was put in charge of their social media strategy this month, who proceeded to visit Know Your Meme for an hour and then decided to give this thing a shot. His niece showed him this Tumblr thing once. If she can handle it...
Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated has been doing this Tumblr thing for a while now. They've become pretty good at it, too. They still go for weird and interesting pictures, sure, but they do it on their own terms. They use their extensive photo archive to bring up things like this picture of Tiger Woods with a full size, stuffed snow tiger, or this picture of a pole vaulter with his butt sticking up in the air after a bad landing, or this picture of a Notre Dame player mid-side-step that looks really awkward. Usually SI goes for stuff like their more recent post: a collage of old photos and covers from NCCA tournaments past. See, ESPN, you can do funny and dignified — and timely! You don't have to guess what the kids are going to reblog. That just makes you look bad.
Of course, this is really all a battle for March Madness attention because neither has the rights to broadcast games or really own the breaking college-basketball narrative. They can run highlights and such after the fact, but the sports world's attention will be focused solely on four channels over the next few weeks: CBS, TNT, TBS, and... TruTV. Yes, TruTV (formerly known as CourtTV) will be broadcasting NCAA games starting this evening with the first two play-in games. ESPN doesn't get to broadcast anything. SI, as usual, devotes a huge print offering and all-out online reporting, including their Seth Davis appearing as a studio analyst on CBS. But everyone will be focused on those four channels, primarily CBS and TNT, while the rest of the sports media world stands and shouts from the sideline hoping someone hears them. Tumblr is apparently ESPN's latest strategy, and it ain't exactly what GIFs were for the Olympics when NBC was running the show.
Also, ESPN's Tumblr About page is hilarious and in ALL CAPS because INTERNET or something:
WE BELIEVE THAT WHILE THERE ARE PLENTY OF MUNDANE, FORGETTABLE THINGS IN THE WORLD, SPORTS ARE DEFINITELY NOT ONE OF THEM. SPORTS ARE CRAZY. THEY'RE UNPREDICTABLE, INSPIRING AND DRAMATIC. AND THAT'S WHY WE'RE ALL SUCH BIG FANS.
ESPN, stop being so shouty and obnoxious on the Internet.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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