- ESPN: The Making of a Sports Media Empire by Travis Vogan
How do you create a cultural phenomenon? The reasoning seems simple (“give them what they want”), but never are the rules so obvious. Affecting culture means gambling on a gut feeling and allowing that gamble to run in order to achieve either acceptance or failure. In the competitive realm of global cable television, ESPN achieved acceptance, as Travis Vogan explains in his new book ESPN: The Making of a Sports Media Empire.
Vogan, an assistant professor of journalism, mass communication, and American studies at the University of Iowa, is qualified to document ESPN’s transition from a regional cable network into an international, socioeconomic powerhouse. His previous book, Keepers of the Flame: NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media (2014), explored the evolution of a documentary-based art form that quickly grew from entertainment to icon. As Vogan explains in his study about the growth of ESPN, it is entirely possible to transform sports coverage into a vehicle for cultural influence.
Gambling on potential success in covering often-ignored sporting genres was, as Travis Vogan writes in his newest book, at the epicenter of ESPN’s early years. The network’s willingness to broadcast recognized, yet never-before aired, events like yacht racing and professional player drafts earned ESPN respect as the home of around-the-clock sports programming. This approach, as addressed in Vogan’s fascinating book, sums up ESPN’s origins: how a perceived need to telecast New England-based collegiate sports evolved into a globally recognized brand supporting original programming, publishing, and even eating, through a line of eateries dedicated to the network’s brand identity.
As Vogan explains when exploring the brand’s growth into both print and online content, ESPN illustrates
how media convergence finds old and new media “interact[ing] in ever more complex ways.” Print products emerge out of TV, Web outlets are rooted in print, and books sprout from online columns. In the process, they indicate that ESPN regulates these boundaries and brokers their expansion.(93)
This brokering of expansion lies at the heart of Vogan’s book. ESPN has endeavored, whenever possible, to turn sports memories into media messages. [End Page 131]
Vogan explores elements of this notion in his chapter on ESPN’s original entertainment programming. Through the creation of “docudramas,” ESPN asserts its corporatized stance concerning how famous figures or events should be construed by an audience. The author demonstrates how EOE (“ESPN’s Original Entertainment”) goes beyond a mere retelling of important sports stories and, instead, repackages these narratives to reflect the network’s distinct authoritative outlook.
Travis Vogan’s book is a captivating exploration into how media is able to control our collective attitudes and behaviors. Sports are packaged, presented, and ultimately arbitrated by the people running ESPN. The network’s global reputation then enables ESPN to dictate what we want, how we react, and what we consume.