Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Sportscenter Producers Probably Stink At Poker

Regular watchers of ESPN have noticed an annoying trend this season. SportsCenter's pre-commercial teasers regularly feature a montage of Barry Bonds crushing five balls, while the anchors ask "Did Barry go deep today? Find out next!" If a fan is dumb enough to fall for this, he's liable to stay up for 30 minutes only to find out that Bonds got the day off.

This ploy might ordinarily entice the viewer to stick around, but there's a problem. Whenever Bonds climbs one closer to Henry Aaron, it's front-page news, the very first thing you will see at the top of every hour on ESPN (and several times during that hour). Furthermore, there is a ticker at the bottom of the screen that, at five-minute intervals, specifically mentions whether or not Bonds went deep. In other words, the moment they ask whether Bonds homered tonight, an intelligent viewer instantly knows the answer is "no." The Bonds teasers not only are a waste of time, they also insult the intelligence of the audience.

In poker, this tip-off is known as a "tell." When you act differently when bluffing rather than betting a good hand, your opponents will notice and call your bluffs while folding to your value bets. The end result is that you lose a lot of money, or in ESPN's case, viewers.

So why do they persist with this strategy? Perhaps these teasers are aimed at an unsophisticated audience that doesn't understand their meaning and watches ESPN solely to see the effects of steroids firsthand. After all, you can get away with a tell if your opponents don't know what it means.

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