Magazine | October 16, 2017, Issue


(Mike Segar/Reuters) (Mike Segar/Reuters)

TO: Programming

FROM: Publicity and Promotion

IN RE: Popularizing non-hot sports

Dear Team:

As you all know, ESPN’s ratings have been in a steep decline for the past two or three years. There’s no use in sugar-coating it — we need to address our weaknesses across the entire platform and the entire menu of sports offerings we’re currently programming.

To that end, the Publicity and Promotions Department has just completed a pretty comprehensive review of our marketing practices and opportunities, and we’ve compiled these concrete suggestions to improve our audience share.

Our strategy is simple: Let’s try to increase the overall popularity of some of our lower-cost — and higher-margin — sports offerings by leveraging the current sports profile in the culture at large, and by taking advantage of football’s current troubles in the PR arena.

Specific recommendations to follow:

Major League Soccer

The problem here, as we analyze it, is that professional soccer is still tainted by a vaguely “European” identity. The games are long — often a sign of European influence — and they regularly conclude in a tedious no-winner fashion, with both teams unable to score at all. For many Americans, this smacks of European-style socialism, and especially (in light of the zero-scoring, everyone-loses outcomes) French socialism. As a result, the television ratings for Major League Soccer games are notoriously low and are often so tiny as to be impossible to measure with any statistical accuracy.

Our suggestion: Make soccer “America’s game” by incorporating the flag and the national anthem into play. Begin each game with a display of firearms — fun, breezy gunplay that celebrates soccer’s — and soccer fans’ — love of the Second Amendment. Use the “kiss cam” technique during soccer’s many, many slow passages to zoom in on foreign-looking spectators and demand they show their citizenship credentials to the camera. (In a fun way, of course . . .) A failure to provide convincing proof of legal-resident status will result in merry and gripping halftime programming.

The key here is to forge a link in the sports fan’s mind between patriotism and soccer.

Also suggested: replacing the hexagonal design of the soccer ball with one that resembles the head of a well-known terrorist, a Hollywood progressive, or the current secretary general of the United Nations.

Professional Bowling

While professional bowling has been stalwart for almost a century, the growth potential is not there. Stagnant viewership and declines among survey respondents who identify as “likely to bowl in the next four years” and “have enjoyed bowling one to three times during lifetime” suggest that drastic and decisive action must be taken.

Bowling, unfortunately, is already seen as a quintessentially American sport. The best strategy here is to attempt to create notoriety and controversy in an effort to remind American sports fans that bowling remains an activity that is theoretically interesting to watch.

Our strategy rests on two key insights: one, that Americans are concerned about terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and two, that Americans are fascinated by other cultures and faiths.

What we suggest, then, is an entirely fundamentalist-Muslim bowling league made up of the current inmates of the federal detention facility in Guantanamo Bay along with ISIS soldiers captured in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and the Kurdish Independent Zone. Each tournament can begin with a loud and violent protest as the American national anthem is sung.

Men’s Hockey

Hockey suffers from its identity as a Canadian — translation: anti-American — sport. To increase its popularity here in the United States and position it to replace professional football as a patriotic, pro-American pastime, we suggest the following action steps:

1. Remove all Canadians from American hockey teams and replace them with real Americans, or at least deny Canadian players on American teams the right to use French-sounding names.

2. Make the puck bigger, so it shows up more clearly on television. Perhaps explore a tie-in with a large fast-casual restaurant chain by refashioning the puck into a hardened rubber Big Mac or Whopper.

3. Allow legal representation before and during any stay in the penalty box. Americans love to sue and be sued and enjoy courtroom-style athletic competition.

Women’s Basketball

The WNBA presents the biggest challenge in terms of viewer apathy and lack of interest.

Our recommendation is that three or more professional athletes now playing in the Women’s National Basketball Association go immediately on a violent interstate crime spree, carefully uploading footage of their actions to all relevant social media. The crime spree should cover multiple time zones, include both streaming video and Instagram imagery, and involve acts of such depravity and notoriety that viewers will finally be interested in watching a game and knowing the names of at least some of the participants.

Again, these are just suggestions — culled from a brainstorming session and presented as points of departure for our discussions later this week.

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