In the era of social media, innovations as far as it comes to watching football seem few and far between. Twitter made the information instantaneous, but since the yellow line the only time it feels like we’re making viewing advancements is with the incorporation of advanced metrics and some new graphics. By and large, the way in which we digest football has been the same.
The ESPN Megacast changes that.
The camera pans out from the press box and spotlights the line of scrimmage before following the football wherever it goes. The announcers dictate the action and are supposed to develop the narrative, though they often fall prey to the ones that already exist.
There’s a sideline reporter or two who mostly update us on the injury situation and occasionally there’s an ex-official on standby via satellite or in the booth, or, at worst, on the phone to clarify all of the subjectiveness in the rules.
That’s the basic two cream, two sugar way that we take our football.
So when ESPN tries to do something innovative like blanketing their airwaves with a dozen unique ways to take in the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship game, it’s refreshing.
Last year’s BCS National Championship game was the first time ESPN launched their “megacast” and the different broadcasts drew predictably varying responses. One of the favorites was the “Film Room” production, which featured several coaches and analysts dissecting the action.
At one point, the crew including Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Boston College’s Steve Addazio and then Pitt head coach (he’s now the HC at Wisconsin) Paul Chryst successfully predicted Florida State’s fake punt in their 34-31 win over Auburn. This year, new Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, Mississippi State head man Dan Mullen and former Oregon State HC turned Nebraska HC Mike Riley will join Tom Luginbill and Chris Spielman on the broadcast hoping to recreate the magic on ESPN2.
An interesting new take this year for ESPN will be their “ESPN Voices” telecast on ESPNU. According to the ESPN press release on the megacast, this version will feature a “cross-section of ESPN on-air personalities from outside college football responsibilities.”
It’ll feature Jay Bilas, Aaron Boone, Julie Foudy, Barry Melrose, Mark Schlereth and Michael Wilbon, and the format has potential to be interesting to the casual fan. Bilas is as sharp of an analyst as ESPN comes, and he’s pompous enough to take on college football with confidence and smart enough to pull it off.
It’s possible that we’ll see some really insightful stuff from this group, as they’re not governed by the politics that often hamstring ESPN’s CFB personalities, but there’s also bound to be an immense amount of blow-harding from people who don’t completely understand a sport with a lot of complexities.
In addition to those two telecasts and the traditional ESPN broadcast with Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Heather Cox and Tom Rinaldi, the network will also air broadcast synced to both Oregon and Ohio State’s radio call, a broadcast with just ambient noise from the game, an ESPN3 broadcast shot solely from the “spidercam” and several other intriguing options.
However, with so many ways to enhance your viewing experience, you’ll need to channel-surf in moderation. Flipping from channel-to-channel and medium-to-medium makes for an overwhelming viewing experience.
Instead, use the first few minutes to sample everything if you didn’t get a chance to try out some of these broadcasts during last year’s megacast. Find a couple broadcasts to subsidize what you’re getting from the standard (and might I say, solid) telecast, and use them as tools to learn the sport.
The Film Room helps you understand the thought process of the coaching staffs and is a genuinely penetrative way to watch and absorb football. See a big play on the regular broadcast and flip it over to the Film Room to watch truly enlightened football minds explain how and why it happened from a technical standpoint.
The Spidercam offers a perspective that essentially put you on the field and can give you a new perspective on the game in the literal sense, while ESPNEWS’ “Off The Ball” telecast teaches you how to watch the game without ball-hawking.
Ultimately, ESPN gives you the option to explore your own identities as football fans, and that’s something they should be commended for. They’ll have some hits and they’ll have some misses, and hopefully they’ll take the things they did well in 2014 and improve on them Monday night.
What results is up to you. We’ve got an opportunity as football fans to use Monday’s CFP National Championship game to change the way we watch football and inevitably sports.
Maybe we never see a broadcast of ambient noise on a weekly basis, but if it rates well, you can bet that ESPN announcers will be directed to let the moment breathe. And there are plenty of ways to incorporate all these other innovative new ways to watch football into our weekly regimen.
Watching football has been the same for a long time, and anytime we can break up that monotony, it’s a good thing.