ESPN Club at Disney takes journalistic objectivity for a ride


From the "You could see this one coming from a mile away" files, comes this entry: ESPN and Disney will open a sports-oriented entertainment facility at the Mouse's Florida complex.

Beginning Monday, "ESPN Club at Disney's Boardwalk" will open for business. It's a 13,000-square-foot operation with an TC interactive multimedia entertainment center, restaurant, interactive arcade, and television and radio studios with 70 television monitors -- including, yes in the restrooms.

The only surprise is that it took so long to work a tie-in between Disney, which purchased ESPN last year as a part of its acquisition of ABC/Capital Cities, and the all-sports networks, a jewel in the ABC crown according to Disney chairman Michael Eisner.

Maybe it shouldn't matter that the world's biggest entertainment conglomerate wants to get its mitts into sports, since the lines between athletics and show bidness are already blurred, if not blown to oblivion.

And the ESPN announcers who are supposed to call the action are doing cutesy self-promotional commercials for "SportsCenter" and hot dogs and turning up in music videos anyway, so what the hey?

Well, here's what the hey is about. It becomes harder and harder for a news-gathering entity and its employees to cast the critical journalistic eye when they are competing with the athletes they cover for places in the entertainment world.

ESPN is enlisting some of its heavyweight talent -- Chris Berman, Dick Vitale, Robin Roberts, Joe Theismann and Lee Corso -- to help open the club in Orlando next week, and the "Fabulous Sports Babe" is doing her radio show from there.

That's bad enough, but far more troubling is the word that next week's editions of Chris Myers' "Up Close" and the "Sports Reporters" Sunday morning commentary show -- both theoretically journalistic endeavors -- will take place from the ESPN club as well.

While each program periodically airs from the site of big events (the Super Bowl, Final Four, Olympics, etc.), next week's moves effectively makes them infomercials for the ESPN club, and that smells. One wonders how thrilled columnists such as Mike Lupica and Mitch Albom, regular "Sports Reporters" contributors, will be to take part in this.

Of course, Eisner and his marketing gang assume these fears are just the wild ruminations of writers and that the viewing audience just wants its sports, no matter how they get it or who brings it to them.

Are they right?

Passing Buck to the Hall

The Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday named Jack Buck the 1996 recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for his long-term contributions to the game.

Buck did football telecasts for CBS from 1970 to '74 and from 1982 to '88, but is best known as the voice of CBS Radio's broadcasts of Monday Night Football over the past 20 years, most of them alongside former Kansas City coach Hank Stram.

Buck is the eighth member of the broadcasting wing of the football Hall of Fame, and joins Curt Gowdy and Lindsey Nelson as the only three men to earn enshrinement in both the baseball and football halls.

Tribute to Gullikson

As a part of today's Wimbledon coverage, HBO's Frank Deford will present a feature on the late Tim Gullikson, who coached top seed and three-time Wimbledon winner Pete Sampras until his death from brain cancer in May.

Sampras, who will play Australia's Mark Philippoussis today, told Deford, "Why someone 44, without a bad bone in his body, was a great guy and was taken away, I don't understand why that's happened. It's sad."

Landing on his feet

Former ABC Sports President Dennis Swanson has snagged a pretty good job and he has a former competitor to thank, in part, for it.

Swanson, who left ABC in May after 10 years at the helm of sports, will take over as president and general manager of WNBC-TV, NBC's owned and operated station in New York and the flagship station of the network.

Oddly enough, Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports, was one of Swanson's champions in NBC corporate circles, talking him up to network personnel for the WNBC slot.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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