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Sports Media Best Practices: Oops!, Bad Presentation, and Scam Ads

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 12:35 PM, under , ,

Late last week I noticed an addition to the web site menu. It was a drop down with direct links to blogs and the Ombudsman column. This looked like welcome addition as it has always been painful finding a direct link to the ombudsman column on the site.

Ken Fang of Fang's Bites linked to Eric Fisher's Sports Business Daily article about the new addition to the site yesterday. Unfortunately, ESPN let the official cat out of the bag before testing the links. Instead of linking to an index of Don Ohlmeyer's excellent, if overly long, dissertations, the link returns search results for the term "ombudsman" (click on image for full size).

OK, you might say that at least his profile comes to the top. You can click on his bio and that should give you the columns, right? Wrong. It brings you to the July 14, 2009 press release announcing his appointment as ombudsman that has a link to his archives (again, click on image for full size).

So you see the archive link and think, "OK, a link to his column archives. Great!" Well great except for one problem. Once again it is a search link for the term "don ohlymeyer". And what do you get back? A page of search results, with the same profile at the top. And the first item in the search results is not even one of his columns (click on image for full size).

Instead of linking directly to his archives, or to his profile page that should, but does not, include direct links to his columns, users are forced to click down 3-4 levels to get to one of his columns. This is far from user-friendly, and only servers to boost the ad impressions served by ESPN's advertisers. This includes scam ads like these:

Newspapers have been running ads like this for years. But is it worth the money for ESPN to sell ad space for services which have clearly been debunked as fiction and that prey on people desperately looking for a way to feed their families?

What Would Be The Best Practice Here?

So in an ideal world, what should ESPN do? We won't touch the ad issue here, but instead talk about the ombudsman link. The link should go directly to the profile of the ombudsman, who is presently Don Ohlmeyer.

The biography on the profile page should be moved to the right column and truncated with a "read more" link to display the fill biography. The main content should be the first paragraph or two of his latest post/column. Given the length of his epistles (and keep in mind that they really are excellent), this should be an easy task. Each of his columns should follow sequentially in the same format.

There should also be a right hand navigator that links to the biographies and archives of the previous individuals who filled the role.

Here is a mock-up of what it might look like (click on image for full size):

What Else Can ESPN Do To Improve Ombudsman Content?

One of the things mentioned in Fisher's SBD column was that recently launched "a redesigned Page 2 that includes a blog-style format that in part is designed to promote more repeat visits from users each day."

One of the best ways to vring repeat visits is to have more short form content, and as good as Ohlmeyer's content is, no one will ever accuse him of writing in short form. SO to strike the best balance, Ohlmeyer's content should be broken apart into smaller pieces. This is not to say eliminate what he is saying, but to put it in an easier to read, more digestible on-line format.

His October 21, 2009 column, "First, Do No Harm" could easily have been broken up into 4 smaller pieces with reducing the actual content. There is nothing wrong with running a multi-part series on a topic like he covers there.

And there is an even more practical reason to break the content up. Ohlmeyer's  first column on September 16, 2009 had a misleading headline of "Three's company, can also be a crowd." It was not misleading in that it did not reflect content in the column, but unless reader's scrolled through 1,994 words of content before finding out there were two other topics in there, one of which was. in my mind, far more important than the MNF booth makeup. It was discussion about ESPN standards and practices decisions about on-air ads. This could have, and should have, been a separate topic on its own.

There was also a portion that dealt with reviews of ESPN's Little League World Series coverage. Again, readers would not have known that until they slogged through the combined word count of 2,638 for the first two topics. They may have had zero interest in MNF, but a lot of interest in this topic.

But Why These Suggested Changes?

Given recent events, the re has been more of a call for transparency from ESPN. The ombudsman role is the public gateway for this transparency. Therefore it should not be difficult to navigate to the content provided by the ombudsman content on the site.

The bottom line is that ESPN viewers and readers are not served by the current configuration of both the navigation and presentation of the content. And if ESPN is serious about transparency and accountability, they need to make changes. It does not have to be what has been outlined and suggested here, but it needs to be something.

And in case you are wondering, the word count on this article is 964.

Interested in learning more?

If you would like to talk to us about how we can work with you on these and other business process issues, both technical and non-technical, you can email us at (replacing the AT and DOT of course) or call us at 706-363-0299.

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