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ESPN's Wide World of Sports

There has been some public opining, I'm told, over Disney's decision to puts its ESPN brand atop all the sports on ABC.

There is something to be opined at in the awkwardness of "ESPN on ABC, in the same way that every housing development now has to have at least two names to give it cachet, if not three: "The Glenns at Doveberry Mews," or "The Coves at Glenberry Farms, a North Ridings Community," that sort of thing.

And the concern about the move of the ESPN name to center stage at ABC would be understandable if people were recalling Disney's past suggestions that there might come a day when it could bypass stations and take all its programming directly to cable. As I recall, that suggestion might have been table talk in ongoing discussions with affiliates over their contracts–it was a decade ago, probably–but it still caught my eye at the time.

But, let's say that ABC isn't migrating to a cable channel anytime soon. Beyond that understandable concern, there is some nostalgic hand-wringing over the end of an era.

The way I see it, the era has been over for a while. ESPN has been a stronger sports brand than ABC, or NBC or CBS, for that matter, for years. Fox is actually a growing sports brand, by contrast. And I see nothing strange about Disney wanting to leverage that over its other TV properties. ABC and ESPN already have the same sales staffs, and programming for both is under ESPN.

ABC is getting out of the golf game, and with Monday Night Football moved to ESPN, the decision to rebrand is simply admitting what has been happening for a long time. A painful truth for some, perhaps, even a little for me, but truth nonetheless.

ABC Sports was partly a cult of personality–and drive and vision–belonging to the late Roone Arledge. It's heyday was marked by obscenely yellow jackets, somewhere between custard and mustard, by a "man rules" kind of sports approach that included hunting and fishing–American Sportsman leaps to mind, like a bass escaping the lure of a Mike Connors or Mean Joe Green–and by a time when if you wanted to see gymnastics or boxing or demolition derby or bullfighting or bowling or prime time football or the Washington Generals somehow manage to lose again to the Globetrotters, you generally went to ABC.

But the world has gotten wider, sports is everywhere, with channels everywhere to put it on, and ESPN has had a whole 24 hours a day over years to perfect its take on sports and assemble its army of sports rights, while ABC had a networkful of other stuff to run.

It's business and life. It's sad in the way that growing up or getting old or leaving home is sad, but it was probably also as inevitable. Grant me the serenity, they say, then hand me a brewski and a cable guide, cause I'm ready for some football.

By John Eggerton