One thing I’ve always enjoyed is applying the lessons of free markets to stories that might not be considered political, philosophical, or economic at all. This story, at first glance, seems to be a simple story about sports media. The President of ESPN has essentially apologized for talking about Tim Tebow too much. Tebow is a controversial figure in sports, primarily because he is devoutly religious, and secondarily because he has enjoyed tremendous success, despite a seeming lack of physical talent, relative to other players at his position. He’s one of the most talked about and dynamic figures in all of sports, he’s among the most loved and among the most hated. Everyone has an opinion about Tim Tebow.
So, one would think (correctly) that a media outlet whose entire justification for existence is to talk about sports, would talk about Tebow frequently. And they have. Much to the dismay of those who are anti-Tebow, he is talked about and obsessed over to a degree that most athletes, including many who have been more successful than Tebow, could never dream of. And it has been very good for business. In this very interview, the President of ESPN admits that whenever they talk about Tebow, ratings go up.
So what has any of this got to do with freedom? Look at some of the quotes from the President of ESPN and tell me if you can’t spot the warning signs of a central planner. The ratings, in this case, represent the market. The market has spoken, and it loves Tim Tebow. When the talking heads on ESPN start talking about Tebow, it causes more people to watch, not less. This is exactly how the market is supposed to work. Suppliers respond to customer demand, and as the demand for a particular product (in this case, Tebow discussion) increases, the supplier is incentivized to provide more of it.
But not so, in this case. The central planner has decreed that they are simply giving the public altogether too much of what they want. Here’s the exact quote:
We all know that if you focus on the Tebow story, for the next 10 minutes you’re going to do better. But the question is trying to take a long-term perspective and saying, ‘Guys, let’s not get over excited about one story and hyping it.’
The President of ESPN seems to present this as some sort of tradeoff. Talking about Tebow might cause ratings to rise in the short term, at the expense of long-term harm to the company. I’m quite curious as to what this prediction of long-term calamity is based upon. The ratings are already available, so we know that in the short-term, Tebow is good for business. I’d like to know exactly why this would somehow have the opposite effect in the long-term. Rather than filling the obvious demand for Tebow coverage, the President of ESPN is attempting to dictate to the public what it should want. Talk in the sports media blogosphere is that Tebow does not deserve the coverage he gets. Does that sort of language, harping over what people deserve sound familiar? Any parallels to politics in that one?
One last note – for those who claim that ESPN is simply drawing a line in the sand to preserve some semblance of journalistic integrity, please, don’t even bother. They crossed that bridge a long time ago.