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Series / SportsCenter

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The flagship program of the sports network ESPN, SportsCenter has been a staple of the American sports landscape since 1979.

SportsCenter, which celebrated its 50,000th episode in 2012, is a sports highlight and analysis show that can be seen at almost all hours of the day on ESPN. Someone who wakes up at 7 a.m. can flip on the TV and watch SportsCenter until they leave for work at 8:30. When they come home at 5 p.m., they can watch the primetime version of SportsCenter. When they go to bed at 11 p.m., they can watch the late-night version, and then the edition from Los Angeles updated to catch the West Coast scores at 2 a.m. And since 2008, they have been able to watch it when they are home sick on a weekday all the way to 2 p.m. And since 2010, when it took over most of the ESPNEWS schedule, all day long.


What started as a simple, low-budget highlight show has, like its parent network, metastasized into a kind of pop culture leviathan that frequently influences the sports world it covers.

SportsCenter truly rocketed to national prominence in the early 1990s, when the 11 p.m. broadcast was anchored by Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann (yes, that Keith Olbermann). The two were smart, witty and cultured and they introduced a brand of cutting humor to the broadcast that made it must-see TV. Some of the scenes in Sports Night (and indeed arguably the characters) are references to this—including the "left off the letter 's' in 'bulging disk'" bit. Of course, on SportsCenter, nobody caught it before airing... to make the connection between real live and fiction even more bizarre, Olbermann did a Sports Night skit with actor Josh Charles on his ESPN show Olbermann. He even said "If Aaron Sorkin had written this script, you wouldn't have believed it". Here's the link.


Unfortunately, Olbermann, by his own admirable admission, was a bit of a prick and left the network in the late 1990s, though he and Patrick remained friends. Patrick expanded his role into other areas of the network, leaving SportsCenter in the hands of Patrick's post-Olbermann partner, Kenny Mayne, as well as the alternate duo of Rich Eisen and catchphrase machine Stuart Scott. When Eisen left in 2003 to become the on-air lead of the newly minted NFL Network, SportsCenter was left to be anchored by a collection of new talent who sought to emulate Scott's painfully hip catch phrasing (with varying degrees of success) rather than the Olbermann/Patrick/Eisen urbane snarkiness.

For all the complaining about the show (Internet sports fans have been savaging it as a shallow, controversy-seeking program for far more than a decade at this point), SportsCenter is more popular than ever. There are no serious national challengers to its dominance. Over the course of about 20 years multiple networks (most notable Fox, who even recruited Olbermann for a short time after he left ESPN) have invested a lot of money and top-flight talent in an attempt to make their own version of SportsCenter, but all have failed.

Canadians have their own counterpart, SportsCentre (note the different spelling) on TSN, which since the early 2000s has become a Canadian Expy of ESPN (thanks to ESPN holding a stake in it). Ironically, TSN's lead SportsCentre anchors, Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole, who were basically the Canadian counterparts to Patrick and Olbermann, ended up being poached by Fox in 2013 to anchor their latest SportsCenter competitor Fox Sports Live, the flagship show for their new national sports cable channel Fox Sports 1 (Fox Sports Live, as usual, struggled and was retooled into more of a talk show before being cancelled in 2017, with the duo having since returned to TSN). Dan was let go by Bell Canada, the owners of TSN, as part of company-wide cuts in 2021.

An increasing trend for the network is to have shows that originate from Los Angeles instead of the network headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. The late Sports Center (10pm Pacific) moved there in 2011 (hosted by Stan Verette and Neil Everett), and SportsNation moved in 2013 (with Marcellus Wiley replacing Colin Cowherd).

Outside of sports, the show is also famous for its incredibly funny This is SportsCenter commercial series, featuring athletes and celebrities in odd situations (such as Danica Patrick's race car getting towed from Dan Patrick's parking space, David Ortiz offending his mascot by wearing a Yankee hat, or the Manning brothers getting into a fight while taking a tour of the studio).

This series contains examples of:

  • Catch Phrases as stated above, although over time this seems to have disappeared.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Notable because of their rarity. Once a year, at the end of the first SportsCenter LA of Christmas Eve (so early Christmas morning on the East Coast), ESPN runs a whole list of all of the directors and staff who would otherwise go unnoted due to their work occurring completely off-camera in order to give them their recognition, a compilation of their "This Is SportsCenter" commercials running on one side of the screen to keep it from being completely dead.
  • Demoted to Extra: Ever since ESPN and the NHL parted ways, hockey highlights have now become few and far between. According to Deadspin's weekly "Bristolmetrics" article, which breaks down the show's coverage of sports and athletes in terms of time spent on a subject, the NHL averages only 15-20 minutes of highlights per week during its season. The hardest hit were Gary Thorne, the chief hockey announcer during that timenote , and Barry Melrose, who left Bristol for a small time to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning...that didn't last long. They are making a bit of a comeback; several anchors (Steve Levy, Linda Cohn, John Buccigross) are hockey fans themselves, and Levy hosts "the Levy Lounge" with Melrose at least once a week during hockey season. The NHL would later sign a deal to broadcast games on ESPN networks starting in 2021.
  • Flanderization: It's striking to catch glimpses of Chris Berman's broadcasting work from his early days even into the early 90's: the mannerisms and catch phrase tendencies are still there, but he's basically just a broadcaster with a bit of shtick. The 2014 version of Berman, however, is a super-charged nickname/catch phrase machine, and many critics have claimed that he makes every broadcast about him.
  • Gender Is No Object: SportsCenter has had its fair share of female anchors over the years, who are utilized for their excellent anchoring skills rather than simple eye candy (although some are rather easy on the eyes). They also have a pretty sizable roster of female anchors instead of one or two tokens; for the first time in 2010, one pair of female anchors (Hannah Storm and Linda Cohn) ended their block of SportsCenter and turned the next block over to another female pairing (Sage Steele and Chris McKendry).
    • Aside from Chris Berman and Bob Ley, the last two original anchors remaining, Cohn is the longest-tenured anchor.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Chris Berman is the gold standard for the network, but the anchors have mostly ditched catchphrases for these, although some are actually pretty clever. Robert Flores has a knack for these ("99 problems but a pitch ain't one" and "Is Wayne Brady gonna have to Djokovic?")
  • Long Runner: And how. Daily episodes have been produced since ESPN's inauguration in 1979, and continued throughout days without sports events to cover, such as September 11, 2001 and the days afterward, and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Multi-National Shows: Versions air in Canada (SportsCentre, which thankfully treats hockey fairly), Australia, Brazil, and Asia.
  • The Nicknamer: Berman's incredibly lame pun nicknames for players. One lowlight: Joseph "Live and Let" Addai.
  • Salt and Pepper: The Los Angeles anchor duo of Neil Everett and Stan Verett.
    • The late 1990s duo of Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen was another example.
  • Show Within a Show: A non-fictional example. The 6 p.m. edition features a Pardon the Interruption segment, that was treated at one point as the final segment of the main show.
  • Spin-Off: SportsCenterU, which exclusively deals with college sports.
  • Tomboyish Name: Anchor Chris McKendry believe it or not is a woman.
  • Totally Radical: Almost everything said by Stuart Scott.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: Very frequently, the first highlight shown on the program will be a recap of the sporting event that the network just televised.
    • Or, even worse, highlights from the big event on another network that just ended, with a greeting of those switching to SportsCenter from the game...
      • If there was a big event that a huge chunk of people, including the vast majority of the show's audience, were watching earlier that day or night, SportsCenter will lead the show with it. In fact, it might devote close to half the show to it, with a parade of analysts showing up and talking about it.
  • Witty Banter

Da na na, da na na!


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Sports Centre


Y2K from This is SportsCenter

A commercial for ESPN's SportsCenter, poking fun at the Millennium Bug and its supposed effects. ESPN tests its Y2K system compliance, only to have all of its electronics shut down. Panic ensues.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / MillenniumBug

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