Hashtag Boycott College GameDay. Or #BoycottCollegeGameDay. I’m serious, if you are.
Imagine the scene for those of you that actually watch ESPN’s College GameDay with any regularity. The three or four guys wake up, get out of their truck all chock-full of fresh makeup and coffee, assume their normal positions, and then all at once get that look on their faces like someone in the boardroom farted and you’re trying to figure out who it is.
Why? Because in the background is nary a sign, fan, or flag. It’s all just a gorgeous parking lot landscape.
The show is set up to attend Michigan State versus Ohio State in East Lansing, Mich., this weekend. Over the course of the last month or so, one of the most white-hot issues surrounding college football is the perceived #SECBias that ESPN personalities have, and whether or not the CFB Playoff committee will acquiesce to that line of thinking or ignore it completely.
College football social media has devolved into two groups:
1. The group that is hell-bent on finding proof of ESPN’s #SECBias.
2. Media calling the first group “idiotic” because they want to work for ESPN.
For all those Midwest fans who genuinely think there’s an SEC Bias (with a capital B — it’s that big a problem), prove how much it matters to you.
First, SEC Bias at ESPN is a real thing.
The media is going to tell you it’s not, because:
1. See the two groups mentioned above;
2. it’s like anything else in life: media protects media because they hang around media and are buddies with media. It’s no different than bankers supporting bankers, coaches supporting coaches, St. Louis Rams fans supporting St. Louis Rams fans. Tribes stick together.
Why it’s a real thing, though, isn’t because ESPN personalities realize Southern belles are prettier, think the food is better, or like the atmosphere more. It’s the bottom line. We’ve been through this before. ESPN personalities can honk off about how college football would be at peak interest level if the Big Ten was better than it is, but it’s a shell game argument, because the Big Ten being what the SEC is perceived to be now means less money in ESPN’s pockets and more in a competitor’s.
Fox Sports owns 51 percent of the Big Ten Network, whereas ESPN owns 80 percent of the SEC Network. It only makes sense to want more interest for your biggest brand. Truthfully, if ESPN didn’t have an SEC bias, it’d be fiscally ignorant. If nothing else, ESPN is in control of its own faculties when it comes to finances.
The interesting part of all this is that ESPN actually has taken time to address it and then get #support from all media figures who don’t want the stink eye at the next press conference, and/or the risk of being blackballed from working for the network.
ESPN’s Chris Fowler famously defended the #SECBias thing by calling out the consumers who said it exists. This brings us to the next layer of this story.
In business, the mantra is, “The customer is always right.” That’s a moving target based on the size of the company, but the overall lesson is mostly the same. Lowe’s or Menard’s can afford to have the customer not always be right more than Bob’s Shack of Tools at the end of the road, because the collateral damage of losing one customer to them isn’t the same as to Bob, who does far less business.
Consumable media is different, however, and ESPN is smart enough to understand its role. Whereas most of us don’t go to a restaurant if we hate the food and the service sucks, or don’t go to a concert if we hate the band’s music and it performs lousy live, ESPN is able to do the opposite of that and rake in the customer even more.
Putting out things that irritate the consumer has worked for years at ESPN, most notably with the hideously awful show “First Take.” The more pissed off people are, the more they tune in to be outraged. Why that is, I’ll never know. Some Internet sociologist with a degree from Google Search Engine University might have your answer, so ask him.
The other reason it works is that ESPN lacks any competition, and you can pretty much do whatever you want when the consumers have no other place to turn for something they crave. If you love cheeseburgers and McDonald’s is the only restaurant within a 50-mile radius, the staff can drop-kick the sandwiches into your car through the drive thru … you’re still coming back.
Attacking the SEC Bias thing serves a dual purpose for ESPN: it helps the company create a story everyone is talking about, a story it can disseminate through every radio show, blog, and SportsCenter episode to keep assuring viewers that they’re “creating the news.” This also keeps the network itself at the forefront of discussion in the sports talk world, on both ESPN’s broadcasts and those of its competitors.
So while the customer is always right, ESPN can afford to not really care. Now, groups of customers are way more right than an individual customer, and this is where if they really wanted to, the fans of Michigan State and Ohio State can change the narrative they so deeply hate, the narrative that has steadily become more entrenched in Bristol since 2007 and the rise of Tim Tebow.
The truth is, large numbers of pissed people moves your bottom line. Both schools need only look at their rival fan base in Ann Arbor to see how strength in numbers being angry gets things done. One fan has no power; 100,000 fans have plenty.
To show dissatisfaction with a host of athletic department decisions, Michigan fans simply showed they weren’t going to stand for it with their wallets. Nearly 20,000 fewer season ticket requests later — plus more losing, more people not showing up, the threat of a boycott, and a rally outside the President’s house to fire the AD — he’s gone now. If you think fan reaction didn’t have anything to do with it all, you’re nuttier than a squirrel turd.
It’s worth asking the question: Will MSU and OSU fans actually boycott? Not a chance in hell.
For one, people are self serving and want to see themselves on television, so they’ll show up. For two, very few people have the sack to stand for anything anymore, especially when it might be viewed as unpopular.
Boycotting College GameDay would assuredly get the brass at ESPN to notice, but it means large groups of people standing up for something collectively that might not be as easy or fun as just dealing with it and going anyway.
Standing up for things is hard; rolling out of bed and making a mixed drink and a pretend clever sign and waving it around for a few hours is not.
I’ll hold out hope, though. If there’s any place where a grassroots, last-second movement can gain traction, it’s a college campus. If fans are really outraged about perceived #SECBias, they can do something about it with their time and wallets. Go to the game, cheer your guts out for your school, but do something else Saturday morning.
If fans really think #SECBias exists, great. If they don’t, all the same, great. However, if you’re mad about something … anything … understand you have the power to do something about it. Apathy is the bedfellow of the status quo.
Do whatever you young people do these days to try and fruitlessly force change. Hashtag it, message-board talk about it, whatever. But #BoycottCollegeGameday if you care that much. Share it on Twitter, Facebook, Instasnap or whatever they are. (It’s easy to lose track with all the names as they blur together.)
But as with anything else, don’t complain about things if you’re unwilling to change them. Come along. #BoycottCollegeGameday this Saturday.
Stand for something… and stand anywhere except in the vicinity of ESPN’s broadcast setup near Spartan Stadium at 9:00 in the morning.