I recently read Those Guys Have All the Fun, a best selling non-fiction book. Through interviews with many of the business and on-air personalities of ESPN, this tells the story of the sports network’s first three decades. Here are my thoughts on this large book: in Part 1, I will tackle how the book was carried out and in Part 2 I will address what I saw as the book’s two main themes: important business decisions and personalities.
1. As someone who fondly remembers ESPN from when my family first had cable in the early 1990s, I knew most of the products and many of the personalities that the book was about. It was funny to remember the programming that ESPN had at that time including fitness shows in the morning.
1a. This book reminded me that ESPN and all of its channels need a lot of content to cover 24 hours a day. In the early days, they struggled for content but even in recent years, I was struck by a comment from a manager that poker was a brilliant find not just because it was popular but because it filled a lot of hours cheaply.
2. I think this book wants to be authoritative but I think it tries to cover too much and talks to too many people to do this. It is an impressive feat to have talked with many of the important people from ESPN’s history and I assume that the authors have a lot more material that they didn’t include.
3. I don’t think I particularly like this format where the authors provide little overarching commentary and let the interviewees tell the story. The authors could have provided a little more summary material and this would have helped connect the chronological periods that each chapter covers. Letting the people involved tell their stories is interesting but ultimately there is an overarching story to tell.
3a. After I finished, I wondered who they didn’t talk to. I assume there were some employees who were not interested in participating and how they might have told a different story. In the end, this tends to be a very positive book about ESPN.
4. Bristol, Connecticut comes up a lot, almost always as a joke. It would have been interesting to hear from community leaders and residents about how they viewed the rise of ESPN as most of the employees don’t think very highly about it.
5. There is an assumption throughout from employees that sports are everything. Occasionally, events like OJ Simpson’s car chase and trial or 9/11 remind them that there are other important things going on in the world. I would be interested in hearing these employees talk more about the relationship between their job in sports and the rest of their lives. Is anyone in the company worried about a sports 24/7 world?
5a. Is ESPN set up to serve the ardent sports fan or does it make a concerted effort to draw new viewers? Certain events or sports, like the full coverage of the World Cup, might attract new viewers.
6. The issue of sexual harassment comes up throughout but the conclusions are unclear: has ESPN sufficiently dealt with this or has this book simply helped sweep it under the rug? And how many readers of this book would care about this issue?
7. I think more attention could have been paid to the Internet, how ESPN’s site compares to others, and how the company has balanced between TV and the Internet. I’m not very fond of all the video on ESPN’s sites and probably read more commentary on SI.com where the emphasis is more on the articles and insights than the overwhelming force of ESPN. Is there sniping within the company between the Internet and TV sides?
8. From a sociological perspective, there is a lot more analysis that could be done with this information. There is a quote toward the end from a Fox Sports executive that struck me: ESPN’s overall ratings are low. Yet, they draw a lot of attention. Perhaps this is because it is a favorite of males. Perhaps it is because they tend to dominate sports coverage in the US. Perhaps it is because their size has led to a number of competitors and websites devoted to their doings. But it sounds like ESPN has cultural influence beyond its ratings and this could be explored further.
Part 2 of this review will follow tomorrow.