SPORTS AND POLITICIAL TV COMMENTARY IS SIMILAR, TELLS US ARTHUR SOLOMON; MOSTLY BAD! MUCKRAKING, MUDSLINGING AND SELF-SPONSORSHIP
Changing Times? As Costs Increase And Cable Viewing Decreases Will Television Follow The N.Y. Times And Ditch Its Way Of Covering Sports?
People who follow the sports media scene were probably not surprised when the New York Times, on July 10, announced that is was disbanding its traditional sports department because the Times stopped covering sports in the conventional way a few years ago.
Gone was the daily detailed coverage of the New York teams, which in reality was nothing but a free advertising vehicle for them that no other business received. Daily box scores and standing of teams were also eliminated. Instead, the Times did ground-breaking reporting on issues like the affects of football concussions, steroids in baseball and gave greater coverage to women’s sports and to the social and economic aspects of sports.
While the Times and other major print outlets have for decades reported on the dark side of sports, television has largely ignored that side of the coin. Instead, over the years, television has been responsible for the growth of sports by constantly elevating niche sports, like hockey, soccer golf, tennis and auto racing from minor league to major league status.
There’s no doubt that television has propelled the popularity of sports to the general population in the U.S. But there’s also no doubt that television has largely acted as a PR arm of the various sports leagues by ignoring its shifty side, which include, for years, giving minimal reporting on how concussions in football can lead to life altering and death of players, providing minimal to no coverage of how team owners have threatened to move their franchises (legal blackmail?) unless cities would pass legislation requiring tax payers to fund new stadiums, how sports moguls embraced on-line betting once they determined it would generate unlimited profits despite research showing that gambling losses were a major cause of suicide, and on the international scene ignoring that the Olympic games were often awarded to totalitarian countries.
In announcing the elimination of a separate sports department, the Times wrote in an email to the newsroom, “We plan to focus even more directly on distinctive, high-impact news and enterprise journalism about how sports intersect with money, power, culture, politics and society at large and “At the same time, we will scale back the newsroom’s coverage of games, players, teams and leagues.”
Once the transformation takes place, for the first time, stories by The Athletic reporters will appear in print edition of the Times, which might lead to labor unrest at the newspaper because unlike some staffers at the Times, reporters and editors at The Athletic are not unionized.
On the same day that the New York Times made its plans public, the Los Angeles Times also announced that it will change the way it covers sports and no longer will feature box scores, standings or game stories. The change at both papers obviously was to increase profitability. A legitimate question to ask is that because the cost of watching a sporting event on TV is becoming more expensive to viewers and cable viewership is declining, will televised sports coverage change the way it operates, as print outlets have done?
Why is television and cable declining?
Some years ago, when I was honchoing Gillette’s fan voting promotion for baseball’s All-Star Game, the president of Gillette’s Safety Razor Division asked me if I could name three future developments in sports coverage that might affect Gillette’s sponsorships. I did. They all involved television. In one way or another they all have come to past. If I was asked the same question today, I would have added a fourth and fifth reason. (More on that later.)
Here were my three answers
1– Pay TV- That’s become a reality that will only get more expensive for viewers. In my, case, my cable provider Optimum requires me to pay an extra fee for a sports package, even though I might not want to watch all its offerings. “It’s part of our package,” I was told. So each month I pay for a sports package that doesn’t allow me to watch several games a season that I want to watch because they are being televised by other venues. I check my mail every day to see if I am being reimbursed by Optimum for the games that I can’t watch. Hasn’t come yet.
2 – Commercials during the broadcasts: There eventually will be so many commercials during telecasts, I said, that viewers will cease paying attention to them. That has also come to past. The first base hit, the fastest pitch, the hardest hit ball are only a few of the occurrences that are sponsored by the U Name It Company. In addition, “on-the-field” ads are a staple of television coverage.
3 – Advertisements on player’s uniforms: That has also become a reality. It’s as if you can’t tell the players without having an open phone line to Dun and Bradstreet. The two I would add if I was asked the same question today:
4– On-line betting from home: While many game announcers have always been “homers,” today many are shills for legalized bookies, often announcing odds on a team’s chance of winning during the game as well as on pre and post game shows. While many viewers have no problem with gambling odds, becoming an integral part of game day announcing, many people do. They governments of some states that are currently looking into the issue because of the adverse affects gambling from home has on viewers.
5- Team names on uniforms: I also would predict that eventually team owners will sell naming rights to businesses. Thus, the New York Yankees might become the XYZ Yankees, etc. That will also change sports marketing advertising. Why would the ABC Company want to advertise on a game, when a team called the XYZ Yankees is sponsored .by a rival product?
Televised sports events have long led the way that changes in sports coverage. They have evolved over the years. But the biggest change is they way television broadcast of sporting events have injected advertisements, many of “sin” products, into every aspect of coverage. I predict that the biggest change regarding sports on televising is still to come. It will be the elimination of watching free sport events by a fee for every game a viewer wants to see. But one thing will remain constant: Sports commentators will still not act like print reporters. They’ll play favorites, by accenting the positive and eliminating the negative (thanks Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer) and by emphasizing the good and neglecting to mention the bad.
Huge firings at ESPN were nasty
Top Bristol voices from Suzy Kolber to Jeff Van Gundy took a jolt. Decades of familiar faces, got up and were dismissed without warning. ESPN might be reconsidering how it will cover sports in the future? But for the time being, there is one aspect of sports journalism that remains consistent: Print sports reporters have largely stopped being self-imposed censors of negative sports news.
May I conclude that that sports industry, its moguls who run the various leagues were getting a free ride and that the business should be covered just like no other. Now that two major papers, the Times of the East and West Coast (LA and NY) are changing the way they cover sports. it’s likely that other media outlets might follow suit.
In a little more than a year, NBCUniversal, which will televise the Paris Summer Olympics in the U.S., will have the opportunity to join the NY Times, Los Angles Times and other sports entities that no longer act as PR arms of the events they cover.
In the past, NBCUniversal has not acted as an honest broker during its previous Olympics telecasts. Now that the games will be held in a democratic country free of censorship will NBCUniversal join other major news outlets in reporting both the good and bad occurrences regarding the Paris Olympics?
The opening ceremonies of the Paris Summer Olympics will take place on July 26, 2024. By the date of the closing ceremony on August 11 the answer will be known: Did NBCUniversal act as a news network or a PR arm of the International Olympic Committee? Was NBCUniversal’s telecast of the Paris Olympics handled as a news event or an advertorial?