Back in September, I wrote a column for this site about ESPN Passport, a site within ESPN that allowed you to load in every game you’ve ever attended – back to 1995, anyway – and track not only how many games you’ve been to, but teams’ all-time records in those games, as well as box scores and statistics. This is an extremely nerdy thing, but it’s also pretty great. As I wrote in that column, “this an absolutely invaluable service, the Internet equivalent of a bottomless shoebox with every ticket stub I’ve ever had.” I can go back through the archives and relive that Illinois basketball win over Iowa back in 2002, or that 2000 ALCS game between the Yankees and the Mariners (featuring an A-Rod homer for Seattle in the ninth). I still log in every game I go to. Today’s game, after all, is just another future memory.
But I’m not going to be able to do it for much longer. In that column, I wrote that because ESPN had never promoted the service – and, in fact, seemed to lose interest in it almost immediately after introducing it – it didn’t have a lot of users, and I feared someday they would just get rid of it. (This is what big corporations do, after all: When something isn’t a big hit out of the gate, it tends to fall down the priority list until it’s ultimately ignored all together.) ESPN told me at the time that it wouldn’t be shutting down the site – while admitting that it was hardly a focus – but lately, the site has become so buggy (it no longer loads NBA scores, for example, and has stopped rescheduling postponed games) that it seemed worth checking back in again. And the news wasn’t good.
According to Ryan Spoon, a very friendly, patient chap who also happens to be senior vice president of product development for ESPN.com, I shouldn’t expect Passport to be fixed anytime soon. “It’s not as easy as pushing a button, I’m afraid,” he said. In fact, Passport is even less of a priority than I thought it was going into the conversation. Spoon didn’t precisely say the site would shut down – the mobile app is already gone – but he did say that the company has “prioritized” their more successful applications (like its invaluable ESPN ScoreCenter app, which I also use obsessively and which keeps improving in each new incarnation) and that “[they’re] still deciding what to do with Passport.” He said it’s possible that they could integrate it into the ScoreCenter app, though that it would be difficult, and that there hasn’t been much “feedback” about that possibility. That’s friendly-person code for, “Nobody really cares about this but you, Leitch.”
That’s not exactly true – I received a ton of feedback on that column, most of which came from people depressed that they were just learning about this service right as it was starting to die down – but I get the point. In-house over there, Passport is considered a bit of a failure, and definitely not worth the investment of keeping it around. It’s easy to see how it got lost. It was sort of a forgotten project, promotion-wise, from the beginning, probably because it launched right around the same time FourSquare was starting to gain market traction, confusing the issue of what the program was supposed to be in the first place. (When it launched, Deadspin, half-jokingly, feared it was some sort of tracking device.) Web execs have become obsessed with “sharing” and real-time integration and other bullsnoot fake Internet suit terms, which kept clouding up what Passport really was, and should have been all along: a way to document and store your sports memories. It’s a small scale, oddly personal thing, and those sorts of things never sell well – or “scale well,” as a fake Internet suit might put it – in conference rooms.
I asked Spoon if ESPN were to shut down the service, would he let me know, so I could tell everyone who uses it to write down all their old logged-in games so they wouldn’t lose them? He wouldn’t confirm they were shutting it down, of course, but he did promise he would let me know, you know, just in case. In other words: ESPN Passport’s days are numbered. I’ll keep checking in with Spoon, but to be safe, I’m writing all my games down in a notebook.
I still think this is an extremely valuable service. The closest thing to it right now is MLB.com’s At The Ballpark, but as nice as that is (and I do use it), it only allows you to check into new games directly at the stadium – you can’t archive games you’ve been to in the past – and only consists of baseball games. I sort of think At The Ballpark exists mostly just for on-site deals once you’ve checked in, anyway. As an app experience, At The Ballpark is actually a lot better than Passport ever was, but without archives and other sports, it’s woefully incomplete.
But there has to be someone who recognizes Passport’s potential and tries to do something with it. We are a culture that documents everything, and we now have this massive, bottomless pit of space that we call the Internet that can organize it for us. Passport was such a good idea that it’s amazing no one else did it, that no one else gave it a chance. So here I am, begging someone to try it. Hey, this site is half-owned by MLB Advanced Media: Somebody out there reading this, and want to try to expand At The Ballpark? Anyone want to partner up with Foursquare? Or does some enterprising startup just want to put together the functionality for this? It can’t be that hard, can it? It can even be text-based, without whirlygigs and whatnot. Should we put together a Kickstarter?
It’s just something that should exist for sports fans. And once Passport’s gone, it won’t. This is less a column than a plaintive wail: This is a product that should exist. Will someone who knows how to make it, please do so? I will be your best friend.
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Seriously, if anyone has any ideas how to set something like this up, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can work together and be friends. Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you’re yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you’re pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I’ll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.