ESPN went all-in on the final BCS championship game that will ever occur, one that saw Florida State defeat Auburn in thrilling fashion, airing a variety of camera angles and commentary crews via multiple stations and the ESPN3/Watch ESPN streaming services. What was, granted, very much so an imperfect method of airing the biggest college football game of the season also offered a glimpse of what is hopefully to come for similar sporting events down the road, perhaps as quickly as this summer when the World Cup takes place.
Good ol' fashioned ESPN treated fans to a traditional no muss, no fuss broadcast, one that featured Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit calling the action. Over on ESPNews was a panel of three college football coaches – Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M, Steve Addazio from Boston College and Pitt's Paul Chryst, who, along with ESPN personalities Matt Millen, Chris Spielman and Tom Luginbill, broke down in-game film. ESPN2 provided more of a watch-party atmosphere, one that was hosted by Jemele Hill and Michael Smith.
First come the negatives. The ESPN2 experiment didn't do it for me. I felt as if I was just watching people watch something else. While it was fascinating and even a bit surreal to see Tim Tebow sitting next to and breaking down plays with Johnny Manziel, that wasn't enough to keep my interest for more than a few minutes.
Quick aside; Tebow was actually very good, and he's only going to get better as an in-studio analyst.
I also could have done without the feed that was available on the ESPN Goal Line station. That included the ESPN Radio audio feed that featured Mike Tirico doing play-by-play, instant replay after every down, and also cameras fixed on both head coaches. I don't doubt that there exists an audience for what aired on ESPN Goal Line on Monday night, but I wasn't all that impressed.
The MVP of the night, for me, was ESPNews. It was the perfect channel for the football nerd, such as myself, who didn't have a dog in the BCS title fight. No offense meant to Mr. Herbstreit, but the insight one received via watching three head coaches break down what went right and what went wrong on pivotal plays could not be matched by any one single commentator who does happen to know his football.
It was oddly entertaining to be reminded that these coaches are also big fans of the game. I particularly enjoyed watching Addazio leap to his feet and hustle over to the video board in order to point out key blocks made by offensive linemen. The visuals created by Addazio made as much an impact as did somebody who sees the game much clearer than I ever will detailing why a certain play happened to be so successful.
The station's highlight of the evening came with under four minutes to go in the first half, when every member of the panel – yes, every one – predicted that Florida State was about to run a fake punt. FSU did just that, and it was a play that changed the tone and the outcome of the game.
Last night's ESPN Megacast admittedly had its flaws. The channels weren't always in sync, and the video feeds on both ESPNews and ESPN2 cut out a couple of times during the first half. I also have this request: Next time, ESPN has to come up with some way to not have commercials on the ESPNews feed.
The station cut to commercials right as one or more of the coaches were making what may or may not have been an important point about something that had just occurred in the game. We at home never got to hear what the experts had to say at those moments, though, and it's an issue that could seemingly be rectified by scrolling ads being placed somewhere on the screen.
I have, in the past 15 hours, read articles and social media posts about how the ESPN Megacast is the future of how we'll watch sports in the US. Nobody should go that far just yet. John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported on Tuesday that the Megacast was not a massive ratings hit. Hopefully, that isn't a reason for ESPN to abandon the idea.