King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Olympics: They're empty seat-tastic. Plus: An ESPN boycott? And: Let's talk it over.

Published July 23, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

Looking for a great last-minute destination for your summer vacation? How about Greece?

They're having a big festival in Athens in the second half of August called the Olympics, so that should be fun. No problem getting tickets, and tourism officials say there are plenty of hotel rooms available. Athens will be less crowded with tourists than it was last summer, the officials say.

Well, OK, I don't know. There's almost always stories before the Olympics about how ticket sales are lagging and the whole thing's going to be a disaster, and more often than not, he said off the top of his head, it turns around and the Olympics are a success in terms of attracting crowds. The Greeks say that things are looking up now that all the construction is wrapping up and people can see all the improvements.

But there's still the security concerns, about which there's pretty much nothing anyone can do. Hire all the armed guards and bomb-sniffing dogs you want, there's still going to be a big bunch of people who just aren't interested in going to such an obvious terrorist target that's so close to the home base of so many terrorists, by which I mean there are no oceans in between.

It's easy for a terrorist to cross an ocean, but it's a psychological thing. Sept. 11 wasn't even three years ago, and we've been talking about it a lot lately, and Americans make up a healthy bloc of Olympic tourists, or they usually do, anyway. The weak dollar and high airfares are also teaming up to mean the Yanks aren't coming.

And then there's this: If you're not a hardcore fan of one of the Olympic sports, when's the last time you heard something positive about these Games? It's all been about the doping scandals, the construction delays, the lack of interest, the NBA stars who don't want to play, the security concerns, the heat, the rudeness of the Athenian taxi drivers.

Just a glance at Friday's papers turned up stories about C.J. Hunter, Marion Jones' ex, saying he'd seen the embattled track star inject performance-enhancing drugs before her 2000 Olympics performances, and the Greek baseball coach threatening to quit because his announced team has all of two Greeks on it. The rest are Americans of Greek descent. I don't want to say that last word has been defined too liberally, but I've eaten souvlaki before, and if I could hit a curveball, I'd have been on the Greek baseball team.

Who knows. The Olympics might rally. I'm looking forward to them. They have a way of overcoming all of this kind of stuff with the drama and excitement of the actual competition, which we're all hoping NBC will show us a few minutes of in between the sappy features about Athlete X's little brother who's suffering from acute hangnail syndrome, and to whom Athlete X has dedicated these Olympics.

Baseball's been talking for a decade about how lousy its product is and it seems to be doing nicely these days, so maybe the negative P.R. strategy will work in Athens too.

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Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury-News writes that he's boycotting ESPN -- for as long as he can.

"I'm boycotting ESPN because it's the only game in sports-TV journalism and, like all monopolies, has gotten bloated and maddeningly self-absorbed," he wrote in his column Thursday. "I'm boycotting ESPN because I want to know if I can. I'm boycotting ESPN because it has become as omnipresent and dangerous as Microsoft, and it takes a conscious effort to avoid the brand."

We've been talking about this stuff around these parts lately, to the point where one reader politely suggested: "Move on!"

But how can we? This column is about sports fandom, and for all but a few of us with nothing but time and disposable income, being a sports fan means having an intimate relationship with television. A thinking sports fan not talking about TV, even obsessing over it a little bit, would be like a skydiver never talking about parachutes. It's kinda central.

"ESPN has always had a split personality," Kawakami writes. "Good ESPN, with tremendous reporters, excellent game coverage and a sense of responsibility; and Bad ESPN, which believes that the only way to cut through the clutter is to SHOUT LOUDER AND LOUDER and produce dumber and dumber shows." He argues that the Bad ESPN has overtaken the Good ESPN.

Kawakami goes on: "Eventually, there will be major ESPN backlash, I don't know if it's coming yet, but I know I want to be out there first, because I want to be on the side with a soul." He writes that he'll let us all know when he relapses.

I'm unqualified to say whether ESPN really is as dangerous as Microsoft. I suspect not. But it's no secret I'm often unhappy with the ESPN approach. I'm not joining Kawakami's boycott -- he wrote that he's not interested in recruiting anyone to join him -- but I guess I already boycott most of ESPN anyway.

I have no time for its slew of silly game shows and yackfests, and nowadays I even skip "SportsCenter" unless some huge story is breaking, because I don't want to sit through the game shows and pointless yackfests that have been incorporated. That's not to mention the obnoxious "look at me!" routines of most of the anchors. I'm not interested in watching televised poker, so that's a de facto boycott of about 22 hours a day right there.

But ESPN does what it does well very well. It shows a lot of live ballgames, and, quibbles aside, it does an excellent job. The analysis shows are of varying quality, but that ranges all the way up to excellent, namely that football weekend preview show with Suzi Kolber and Ron Jaworski, the name of which changes with the sponsor from time to time. I like "Pardon the Interruption" because I just think Tony Kornheiser is a wacked genius, though of all the things he does -- columnist, TV host, radio host -- I think what he does best is radio, which he's quit doing.

If a boycott, however small, can get rid of the dross, the "Cold Pizza" and the Chris Berman and the Budweiser Hot Seat and the "Around the Horn," I'm all for it. I'm not holding my breath or anything.

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The Sports Daily Table Talk thread [PERMALINK]

Following in the footsteps of actually talented Salon columnists Cary Tennis and Heather Havrilesky, I've started a Table Talk thread that will serve as a discussion forum for this column.

Please stop by and offer your thoughts on the day's column, the day's sports events, the day's weather or anything else you want to talk about that day, up to and including Boots Day, Morris Day, Doris Day and "The Day the Earth Stood Still." But not Pat Studstill. We have standards.

In spite of that, I'll be dropping in when I can.

Previous column: "Moneyball" and the NBA

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