Friday, December 28, 2007

Broadcasting the Patriots - Giants Game

The decision by the NFL to allow Saturday's NFL Network game feed to be simultaneously broadcast on two television networks and at least one independent station marks a retreat from the NFL's previous position. Click here to read my blog on this saga in Sports Law Blog.

Monday, December 24, 2007

ESPN and the Trickle-Down Effect

The New York Times published the following article on Christmas Eve:

Titled, "The Top Player in This League? It May Be the Sports Reporter," the article details efforts by ESPN and Yahoo Sports to sign the top newspaper and magazine sports reporters.

For sports journalism, this article is a great Christmas gift for several reasons:

1) Note that these are content-related hires. These are journalists who built their reputations by providing good reporting. These are not loud talking heads who can piece together multi-syllabic adjectives and adverbs, but whose information is basically recycled.

In today's online sports information culture, the premium is on information, not opinion. Whether the consumer is a fantasy league team owner seeking an edge, or a hyper-fan thirsting for the latest developments related to their team or sport, what keeps them at a Web site is information, not gimmicks.

Granted, sports broadcasting in general and ESPN in particular have been at the forefront of the gimmickry. Whether hiring high-profile names of dubious journalistic skills, or foisting hype-driven features such as "Who's Now?", ESPN and its mimics have stressed style and sizzle.

But subtance-and-steak journalists like Selena Roberts of the New York Times and Mark Fainura-Wada of the San Francisco Chronicle did not build their reputations by practicing yelling at a camera. They are known more for producing sound journalism:

2) Note that these hires are not fawning celebrity sports journalists. The steroid scandal shined a spotlight on the sports journalists who covered baseball, and almost across the board, the verdict was clear: Baseball journalists looked the other way.

For sports journalists who let celebrity adulation create conflicts of interest, their content will suffer. But Roberts, Fainura-Wada, and even Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated maintain an objectivity that allowed them to criticize athletes when necessary. (I still cringe when I think about Reilly's column about Barry Bonds as Bonds approached the home run record.) The athletes themselves might not be too happy at such journalists having a higher profile, but that would itself be an endorsement of the journalists' objectivity.

As a former sportswriter and now a college professor who teaches sports journalism at Auburn, I have been concerned by young journalists who find it hard to set aside their sports loyalties and function as professional journalists. At least now we have examples of positive journalism role models who are succeeding.

3) Note that these sports journalists left openings at their publications. The editors interviewed by the New York Times might decry this as a brain drain, but instead, it's an opportunity for young sports journalists -- and they're out there -- to continue to hone their game. I'm excited to see who will be stepping into these positions and showing themselves equal to the challenge.

For those young journalists who were hoping to land the next opening on "Pardon the Interruption" or "Around the Horn" or its next version ... well, there are always local high school football broadcasts looking for high volume and multi-syllables, I suppose.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas from JSM

Sorry it's been so long since we've posted here at JSM. Things have gotten a little hectic around here trying to get ready for Christmas, which I'm sure is pretty much the same where you are.
We did get some exciting news recently. Our publisher, University of Nebraska Press, is working with us to create a new look for JSM. When the 3rd issue comes out in March the new design will look something like this.
Don't forget that we're increasing publication to twice yearly starting in March. We've changed the call for papers to continuous, year-round submissions. For more details click here, or contact me at
Again, our best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Media Coverage of the Mitchell Report

I did a quick read through the 400 page Mitchell report today and compared the document with some of the coverage that I have seen, read or heard in the last 24 hours. Here are my thoughts:

1. This is not a definitive report -- rather it is an outline, mostly based on existing information, organized like a decent term paper than many students could draft. It is wordy, long on background and short on specifics.

2. It confirms what most of us already knew. There is evidence to support the allegations of the use of performance-enhancing substances in Major League Baseball and that everyone involved -- the Commissioner, owners, players and their union in some way aided and abetted this practice.

3. Without the section detailing the information by Kirk Radomski, the report would be nothing more than a recap. The Radomski information, gleaned as part of a plea deal (an interesting development in itself), does put some teeth into the allegations. Copies of checks are included and certain players' activities are discussed in some detail.

4. Many of the players are retired and we cannot tell whether the revised drug test program has had some effect in curbing the use of such substances. If Roger Clemens retires, then the major star in this report will join that list and won't be playing.

5. The proposals for outside control of testing are reasonable, but seem superficial and need further development. It is true that this matter must involve a revision of the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA, but it would have been intriguing to read what Sen. Mitchell could create, if he (and his staff) had the chance.

6. The seemingly hysterical media coverage by some (including John Kruk of ESPN talking about "hearsay" when he evidently does not know what it is) may be entertaining, but not informative.

7. The lack of context was also apparent. This is not a criminal investigation and Sen. Mitchell had no subpoena power. It also covers activities that often date 10 years ago. It is an internal governance matter, with legal implications (as these substances are illegal without a prescription). I doubt that players will be charged criminally based on the lack of compelling evidence found here.

8. I was happy that my local television newscast led with the weather report.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Free NHL!

Flipping through DirecTV the other day I excitedly stumbled upon the NHL Network. Having spent a good portion of my youth in Michigan I enjoy the game and consider myself a fan. But when I tried to click on the channel to watch I was shocked to see that the NHL Network is a premium channel that requires an additional charge.
In case you hadn't noticed (and chances are you haven't) this fall the National Hockey League began its own television network similar to those developed by the NFL and NBA. The network existed in Canada for a few years, but has now made it to U.S. cable and satellite systems. Much like the NFL and NBA networks, the NHL will carry features and some live games. And also like the other networks consumers will have to pay an additional premium to access the channel.
This makes sense for the NFL and NBA which already have established fan bases. But it's complete lunacy for the NHL, which already has made several questionable broadcast decisions. Moving from ESPN to the Versus Network substantially reduced the already microscopic television ratings; now the league is charging an additional fee for content that most people don't care about.
The only way the league is going to grow is by increasing exposure via television and that's not going to happen by charging people extra. The NHL should have learned this lesson when it switched to Versus; instead of reducing its rights fees and staying on ESPN it now broadcasts games on a network no one can find.
Note to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: give the television product away for free, including the NHL Network, and try to drum up some interest. When more than a handful of people start watching, then you can charge money. Maybe I'll even sign up myself.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Discussing Sports Blogs at Princeton

I had the opportunity to attend the Princeton University Sports Symposium last Friday, Dec. 7, which featured an impressive collection of speakers including the keynote address from Brett Yormark of the New Jersey Nets.

One of the panel discussions was "Sports Media Today - Connecting with Fans on Multiple Screens" and featured Joe Favorito of the International Fight League, Rick Harmon of, Scott Novak (soon to be of SI Group), and Peter Stern of STRATEGIC. The panel was moderated by Sean Gregory, a '98 Princeton grad and Time magazine staff writer.
I asked the panel their opinions on whether blogs were journalists and under what circumstances a blog might accredited by a sport organization. Joe conveyed the notion that emerging sports, such as IFL, should embrace blogs for coverage and Sean agreed that blogs are indeed journalistic, pointing out the many Time writers who engage in blogging. The discussion evolved into questioning the credibility and validity of bloggers and the "no accountability" nature of the medium.

During a breakout, I talked with both Joe and Scott further about this. Both are public relations practitioners and we all agreed that, under certain conditions, blogs should be accredited by sport organizations.

My belief has been, and will continue to be, that blogs deserve many of the same privileges and preferences as mainstream media. Blogs reach a core audience for an organization - its fan base. I think the New York Islanders' Blog Box is a unique way for a sport organization to reach out to its fan base, without comprising the integrity of the mainstream media. More organizations should consider adopting this practice.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Golden Child

The NFL is golden. Bulletproof. Untouchable.

Monday's Patriots-Ravens game was the highest rated show in the history of cable television, a domain typically dominated by professional wrestling. True, the Patriots are chasing a perfect record, but the Ravens aren't terribly exciting and Monday night ratings have trended downward for some time now. But never underestimate the power of the National Football League. The league makes millions off merchandising rights, has its own television network broadcasting live games and is making serious noise internationally.

Other sports cycle up and down. The NBA went through a bad stretch in the '70s before Magic and Bird came along. These days, it's trying to pump some life into it's seemingly endless regular season by requiring coaches to wear microphones for national telecasts. Major league baseball is taking a big hit with the steroid controversy, and whatever happened to the NHL?

It's amazing to think that back in the day this was a baseball nation and pro football hardly registered. Sports sociologists have debated exactly how and when this happened, but more important is the danger the NFL presents to other sports. In a sports media sense the league is threatening to marginalize all other sports. Ratings declines have been noted for the World Series, NBA Finals, NCAA Final Four and other major events, but not for the NFL. ESPN, the NFL Network and other sports media have now made the league a 365/24/7 business. If the NFL ever found something to fill up the spring months (besides waiting for the league draft), we could become the equivalent of a one-horse town. Maybe the NFL Network slogan is right -- it's an NFL world and we're just living in it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Big (PR) Brother is Watching

John Koblin of the New York Observer writes an excellent article on covering the New York Knicks NBA team as a beat reporter. The article offers a useful, and scary, insight into how sports organizations try to influence reporting and public opinion. The Knicks have been taking a beating on and off the court in recent years and owner James Dolan has resorted to the Soviet system of fair and open reporting. Koblin writes, "The stories from the reporters are endless: layers of institutional paranoia; public relations officials who openly eavesdrop on private conversations with executives and players; the threat—and implementation—of cutting off reporters who are perceived to be critical of the team. "

Two points jump out here. It would seem that the more the Knicks try to control reporting and opinion the more reporters are going to fight back, and indeed the team has become the object of almost daily ridicule in the New York media. The other point is a greater appreciation of what beat writers go through to bring us coverage of our favorite teams. A few years back sportswriter Bill Plaschke wrote an article detailing some of the dangers beat reporters face on a daily basis. The article may help explain why Plaschke has transitioned to the somewhat safer environs of reporting for ESPN.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Les (Miles) Coverage is More

There was quite a media stir over the weekend concerning LSU football coach Les Miles.
Speculation had run wild all week that Miles would return to his alma mater as the next coach at the University of Michigan. On its GameDay college football show Saturday morning ESPN reported through "reliable sources" that it was a done deal and Miles would be the next Michigan coach. Later that afternoon, and just two hours before the kickoff of the SEC Championship in which his LSU team would play Tennessee, Miles took the unprecendented step of holding a news conference to quash the rumors. He chastized the media for reporting incorrect information and firmly stated that he would be the LSU coach next season. ESPN counter-attacked, saying that it had the story straight and Miles probably backed out of the deal when the story broke early. It turns out that even though Miles had permisson to talk with Michigan he never actually did so.
I'm as much a First Amendment guy as anyone else, but I'll have to go with Miles on this one. Far too much rumor gets into ESPN (and all the other sports shows) these days credited simply to "reliable sources." Several times in the past ESPN has reported information like this that later turned out to be completely false; classic cases of smelling smoke and yelling fire. To be fair, ESPN does break some important information from time to time, but far too often it sacrifices accuracy for speed. Isn't it still more important to be right than to be first?
I'm not saying Miles was completely a victim in all of this. He received permission to talk with Michigan earlier in the week, which only fueled the speculation. Miles should have said that any discussions would have to wait until after the season. But given the circumstances he acted appropriately by calling the news conference, where he scolded the media and asked that in the future their only credible source on the matter should be him. That's taking it a little too far and the media certainly have the right to go elsewhere to get their information, but it's not a bad starting point.