This past Sunday, I—like many Americans—tuned my TV to one
of the most anticipated sporting events of the year. I am of course referring
to the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix
In a sly move aimed at preserving as much advertising
revenue as possible, ESPN2 elected not to broadcast the meet live on Saturday
night, as it would have blocked a valuable time slot from much more lucrative
programming options like masters water polo or competitive cup stacking. (I
didn’t make that up—cup stacking
really is a Thing and ESPN really televises
I wish I had been a fly on the wall in the ESPN programming
meeting where the Grand Prix scheduling decision was made. I imagine it went
something like this:
SCHEDULE BOSS GUY: Ted, when should we play that Boston
indoor track meet?
TED: Uh, I dunno, Boss. I guess we could just play it live.
There’s nothing else going on that night.
SCHEDULE BOSS GUY: Wrong! If you don’t learn anything else
from me, Ted, at least remember this: never put track and field in a time slot
that has even the slightest possibility of drawing an audience. Saturday night
is prime airtime for losers with no girlfriends, injured construction workers
with no girlfriends, and fantasy geeks with no girlfriends whose Dungeons &
Dragons game is on hiatus until the Dungeon Master recovers from the
flu. It’s ratings gold just waiting to be mined!
TED: Oh, OK. So what would you put in the Saturday night
SCHEDULE BOSS GUY: I don’t know, maybe competitive cup
stacking—you know, something with broad appeal and moderate entertainment
TED: But what about the track meet? We’ve got to put it
SCHEDULE BOSS GUY: Think about it, Ted. What’s the one day
of the year when we have nothing to lose—when we know for certain that the
entire country will collectively not give a crap about what’s on second-tier
TED: Umm…Super Bowl Sunday?
SCHEDULE BOSS GUY: Very good, Ted. You’re catching on
quickly. So, since we have pretty much no chance of attracting any sort of TV
audience on that particular day, we might as well play something that nobody
would watch anyway. Something like…
SCHEDULE BOSS GUY: Excellent, Ted! You’re the man.
TED: No, Boss—you’re the man!
SCHEDULE BOSS GUY: I know.
What Ted and his boss didn’t account for, however, is the
fact that there are literally tens of former track athletes out there just
waiting for an opportunity to watch their beloved sport on the small screen.
Usually this means sneaking into the living room in the wee hours of the
morning to catch a condensed replay of a weeks-old college meet on some obscure
So when I see a TV listing for a track meet that is going to
play on ESPN2 during normal waking hours, I get pretty flippin’ excited—even if
it is Super Bowl Sunday.
Sure, I grew up in a football family that treated Super Bowl
Sunday like a sacred religious holiday. But was there really any harm in
skipping a bit of the redundant pre-game “fluff” to get my track and field fix?
Boy, was I glad I tuned in. Not only did Mary Cain
16-year-old running phenom from New York—shatter the high school two-mile
record by SEVENTEEN FREAKING SECONDS, but also the camera crew managed to catch
would-be 800-meter winner Phoebe Wright hawking a giant loogie on the track as
she took her position on the starting line. (In case you were wondering,
spitting on an indoor track is generally frowned upon. Vomiting, however, is
totally permissible because come on, how are you going to stop that?)
Also, I will readily admit to giggling like a 6-year-old
girl when men’s 3,000-meter competitor Dejen Gebremeskel, completely oblivious
to the fact that he was being filmed at the starting line, did a not-so-subtle
pick-and-flick before running to a third-place finish.
The logical explanation for their lack of manners: they’re
not used to being on TV, and when they are, the only people watching are hotel
night auditors and insomniacs who are just trying to find some yawn-inducing
television until the Lunesta kicks in. Oh yeah, and pathetic track and field
UPDATE: It has just come to my attention that the New
Balance Indoor Grand Prix allegedly was broadcast live on ESPN3, an online
streaming service loosely affiliated with ESPN. According to my research
access to this particular channel is heavily restricted by a series of complex
subscription regulations imposed on the vast majority of digital cable
providers. A recent survey of cable users revealed that ESPN3 is available in
approximately 17 homes nationwide. However, since this figure falls within the
margin of error associated with the survey, it is quite possible that
ESPN3—like Manti Te’o’s girlfriend—is nothing more than an elaborate Internet