There is no doubt that ESPN, the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) unit, is the most brilliant programmer on the tube.
ESPN airs pro and collegiate football and basketball, major league baseball, tennis, soccer and so many other of our pastimes.
And last night, ESPN showed a spelling bee.
And people watched.
Is a spelling bee a sporting event? You betcha. And you can someday look forward to competition featuring drying dishes and folding laundry. And yes, people will watch that, too.
Showing live competitive events, whether they actually involve a ball of any size or color, is the cornerstone of ESPN's strategy. That's why ESPN would prefer to air a college football game, between two schools going absolutely nowhere at midnight than a taped event.
I'd love to know what the definition of "sports" is in the handbook of The Worldwide Leader in Sports. Then I'd understand how a spelling bee got on the tube.
It's all about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, to borrow the tag line of the old ABC's Wide World of Sports show. ESPN has embraced that concept and run with it.
ESPN had better continue to be shamelessly innovative because in two and a half months, the Fox Sports 1 cable channel will debut (to be exact, on Aug. 17). That's why we've been reading reports of job cuts at ESPN. It wants to be as lean and mean as the San Francisco 49ers when the competition starts for real.
In fact, forget the baseball pennant races during the dog days of the summer. The ESPN-Fox Sports 1 smackdown promises to contain more drama than anything the Dodgers and Giants or Yankees and Red Sox can muster.
Everything is up for grabs. Fox hired away ESPN's Erin Andrews not long ago, with an eye on strengthening its ranks while weakening its rival.
This pits two highly competitive, proud organizations against one another for cable-sports supremacy. ESPN, by virtue of its longevity (it has been on the scene since 1979), has a pronounced home-field advantage. But Fox Sports 1 won't be intimidated.
Hey, ESPN, can you spell "t-h-r-e-a-t?"