Unless you have been under a rock for the last two weeks, you have probably heard about the plight of ESPN reporter Erin Andrews. For those who don’t know, Andrews was the victim of an invasion of privacy as a peeper took a video of her in her hotel room as she prepared for work several months ago. Now Andrews is being stalked and her career is in pieces. In light of these and other embarrassing sidelines misadventures, I am sure ESPN and other sports networks are evaluating the relevance of sideline reporters.
Some of course will say that they are unnecessary, that they are nothing more than sideline eye candy – cheerleaders for the broadcast booth. I disagree. I think sideline reporters, whether they be down on the field or up in the stands, play a valuable role in the television experience.
If I was in charge of ESPN or any other sports broadcasting organization, I would look to push my sideline reporters off camera and on to another platform. I would look for a platform that can broadcast to the masses while at the same time protect the identities of my employees. I would embrace a platform that could enhance the viewing experience and provide key insight to the stories within the game, while not taking away from the main on-air talent.
I would use Twitter.
According to a recent Mashable.com post, people who are smarter than me about programming are striving to make the TV viewing experience much more interactive.
“Verizon FiOS TV is adding Facebook and Twitter integration, as well as several other social media options, to its service. Similar to the integrations we’ve seen on the Web, this allows you to update your status on either network when watching a given show or event and also see what your friends or the larger social media community is saying about it.”
If we are soon to arrive at the day when you can “sign in” to your TV and have your Twitter feed loaded on the right or left side of your screen, why not have sideline reporters report via twitter? There would be no need to cut them out. They would always be there, conducting interviews, digging up information, and getting the behind the scenes stuff the people in the booth can’t get. The only difference of course, would be that they would be broadcasting online in a constant stream, adding updates and nuggets of knowledge as they found it.
@ESPN_Sideline: “Talked to Coach Bowden @ halftime. Defense needs to step up.”
@ESPN_Sideline: “At Lakers v Celtics. KG says he is going to give 100%.”
@ESPN_Sideline: “Huge Yankees fan is wearing a lamp shade on his head. Ha ha.”
The possibilities don’t stop there. With Twitter comes the ability to interact. Viewers or anyone on Twitter could tweet their own information to @ESPN_Sideline, possibly providing leads or modifying the reporter’s tasks to fit the inquiries of the viewers. The viewers could also give tips or ideas to @ESPN_Sideline or supplement their broadcast with additional facts. The viewing experience becomes a community effort led by the unseen @ESPN_Sideline.
As an additional bonus, by not being on camera, the person behind @ESPN_Sideline does not have to worry about how they look on TV, what outfit may or may not be splashed across the front page of blogs, or if they are attracting hordes of seedy, nefarious, undersexed, pubescent losers.
In addition to @ESPN_Sideline or other online reporters, perhaps professional sports leagues will acquiesce to the idea of players tweeting during games. Maybe if asked by @ESPN_Sideline, players would be allowed to answer online.
@ESPN_Sideline: “@The_Real_Shaq: What do u need to do to play better in the 2nd half”
@The_Real_Shaq: “@ESPN_Sideline: I need to play w/in myself. Better D. Fly like Superman. LOL”
All this again can happen while the broadcast is ongoing. Tweeting sideline reporters would in no way impede the in-game announcers (no more “kicking it back to the booth”), nor will they interfere with pre-game, halftime, or post-game shows. They aren’t even constrained by commercials.
Maybe the 35 year run of sideline reporters isn’t over. Maybe their demise in the wake of the Erin Andrews privacy snafu is presumptuous. Maybe they will be the impetus in a revolution in sports broadcasting. Maybe Andrews sacrificed herself for the greater good.
UPDATE: As Sun Sports / Fox Sports Florida reporter Whit Watson points out in his blog, his network has been actively employing Twitter during their broadcasts for quite some time. Both Watson himself and the Sun Sports Fox Sports Florida network have Twitter accounts, and are encouraged to use them at will, creating an increased interaction with fans and viewers. You should definitely go read his blog as it makes an exceptional complimentary piece to this post.