Despite its popularity, pervasiveness, and value, ESPN’s programming is not typically recognized as sophisticated or artful. To give its brand identity greater prestige within the increasingly competitive world of cable sports television, in 2008 ESPN created ESPN Films, a subsidiary film production unit that specializes in documentaries. ESPN Films’ most ambitious project thus far is 30 for 30 (2009–2010), a series of 30 documentaries made by 30 commissioned filmmakers to celebrate ESPN’s 30th anniversary. ESPN markets 30 for 30 through emphasizing three primary qualities that distinguish the series, and, by extension, ESPN, from other sports television: the use of the documentary form, the productions’ status as films, and the commissioned filmmakers’ position as renowned artists. This essay uses ESPN Films and 30 for 30 to examine ESPN’s efforts to add refinement to its institutional identity and to illustrate the economic and industrial functions this shift in cultural status serves.
Benjamin Burroughs and Travis Vogan
The growing body of scholarship on sport scandals focuses on how media cover these incidents, how scandalized parties disrupt expectations and repair their images, and the circumstances under which punishment and forgiveness are issued. This article uses Deadspin, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN’s coverage of the 2013 Manti Te’o hoax to suggest that sport scandals also compose instruments through which media outlets fashion their brands, critique competitors, and compete for market share. It demonstrates how these outlets used the Te’o incident to negotiate their positions in the sport-media industry and, more broadly, how sport scandals and coverage of them can reshape that increasingly digital industry’s established hierarchies.