ESPN made a complete mess of the New York City Marathon. The coverage, production, talent decisions, by and large, were among the worse I've seen in television. I speak from knowledge. I worked for 30 years in television. I am an Emmy nominated sports producer. ESPN simply was out of its depth.
Before I go into full blast mode I will compliment ESPN for a great primary announcing crew. Jon Anderson is a big running fan. He's shown his stripes in the network's track and field coverage. Tim Hutchings and Carrie Tollefson have the knowledge to add color to any road race or track and field event. If viewers could have gotten two and a half hours of that trio with a good dose of Paula Radcliffe from the in race vantage point and a true distance runner other than Matt Centrowitz in the men's race we would have had a great crew.
Instead the producers felt the need to start jamming pre-produced pieces offering the human aspect of the race about an hour into the coverage. We were forced to endure Sage Steele, who interviewing skills leave much to be desired. She has no insight into the sport, completely lacking in the abilities that Anderson consistently shows when he's handling interview duties at track meets. ESPN should have put Anderson in Steele's role and left Hutchings and Tollefson to handle the race duties which both are more than capable of doing.
As the real racing unfolded shortly after the halfway point of the women's race, the soft-soap people features began to fill the screen. The telecast missed the three key breaks in the women's race as Mary Keitany worked her magic on a talented field. It was infuriating to realize that something significant had happened while we learned about someone's heart rate or some charity runner.
The men's coverage was almost as bad. Matt Centrowitz offered little insight into the racing and the sound problems plagued his efforts and Radcliffe as well. ESPN missed much of the early breaks in the men's race because it failed to utilize split screens in its coverage as it focused on Keitany who had already destroyed the women's field.
Fortunately after Keitany hit the finish line we got a chance to watch the three way death match between Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa, Shura Kitata and Kenya's Geoffrey Kamworor. Kitata worked tirelessly throughout the race to inject pace and break up the field but Centrowitz seemed completely unaware of the tactic. In the final three miles Desisa pulled away leaving Kamworor and Kitata for dead. Yet Kitata summoned the strength that seemed otherworldly to try and chase Desisa to the finish.
The thrill of the men's battle couldn't make up for the flaws of the broadcast. ESPN needs to take a page from the other world marathon majors. Show the race. Use the split screen more and stop trying to put a face on the race by highlighting the hobby runners. Explain what it takes to be a pro and why these runners are the fittest athletes in the world.