Monday, February 28, 2011

Boy, Talk about Coincidence

Just a couple of days after we blogged about Jay Mariotti, another ESPN contributor faces charges of domestic violence.

Not much else to say here; we'll see how it plays out.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mariotti Returns

Former Chicago Sun-Times reporter and ESPN Around the Horn contributor Jay Mariotti has virtually disappeared from the sports media since his arrest last year on chargers related to an alleged domestic abuse incident with his girlfriend. Marriotti either quit or was fired from the Sun-Times, and was also quickly dropped by ESPN.

But Mariotti resurfaced last week with an in-depth interview with fellow sportswriter Jason Whitlock. In the first part, Mariotti talks about the incident. From a sports media perspective, the second part has some interesting analysis about the state of sports journalism today, including the pressures of multi-media sports reporting and the growth of the 'celebrity' sports journalist. You can find links to both parts here, as well as Whitlock's currert podcast interview with Buzz Bissinger. Regardless of what you think about Mariotti or what he did, it's an interesting insight to many of the issues and changes going on in sports journalism.

Also, a reminder that the deadline for early registration for the upcoming College Sports Research Conference is March 4. The conference is April 20-22 in Chapel Hill, NC, and you can find more information here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Gray Area

Jim Gray of NBC and the Golf Channel has earned the reputation as a pretty tough sports reporter and interviewer. Unfortunately, he has also earned the reputation as someone who often makes himself the news, rather than just reporting on it.

Gray got himself kicked off the Golf Channel's coverage of this weekend's PGA tour event in Los Angeles. When Dustin Johnson missed his tee time Thursday, Gray hunted him down for an explanation during the round, which displeased both players and caddies. "In order not to provide further distraction, we've decided to remove Jim from this particular assignment," Golf Channel spokesman Dan Higgins said.

This all might be much ado about nothing, except that Gray has made a career putting himself at the center of the news. Just some of the highlights include:

*His (in)famous 1999 interview with Pete Rose regarding Rose's alleged betting on baseball. No one argued Gray's right to ask the questions, but his approach made him seem petty and vindictive. Gray apologized to fans the following night on NBC.

*A verbal confrontation with golfer Corey Pavin regarding Gray's reporting on the Ryder Cup.

*And who can forget Gray's participation in last summer's "Decision" announcement with LeBron James, where Gray asked 16 questions before getting down to the only question anyone cared about?

There is no doubt that Gray is an accomplished sports reporter, and he deserves his reputation for asking tough questions and not taking 'no' for an answer. But too many times Gray has injected himself into his own reporting. He is almost becoming a caricature of himself, like what happened to Howard Cosell at the end of his career.

The first rule of sports reporting should be "you are the reporter on the story, not the story itself."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Olympics Up For Grabs?

Last month at the NATPE convention in Miami, outgoing NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker talked a bit about the importance of sports to NBC. Now Zucker is gone as part of Comcast's takeover of NBCU, and the new owners apparently don't think quite as much of sports, at least the Olympics.

New CEO Steve Burke has announced that NBC may drop the Olympics as part of cost-cutting measures. Burke says that NBC lost around $220 million on the 2010 games in Vancouver, and Comcast may not bid for future games because of the dramatic rise in rights fees. NBC paid $2.2 billion for the Vancouver winter games and the 2012 games in London.

Is this a sign of things to come or simply the move of one company trying to reverse its fortunes? (Burke says he thinks it will take five years to turn around the NBC broadcast network, which will need help from its profitable cable sister stations). Competition between other networks could still push rights fees for future Games above the $4 billion mark, but there is a growing sense that there is a limit on how much networks are willing to pay.

The Olympics are still important in many respects, but certainly not the seminal sports and cultural event they were in years past. We used to turn to the Olympics to see events and athletes from different places; things we had never seen before. Now, modern technology brings us all those things on almost a daily basis, and much of the reaction today is "been there, done that." Globalization of professional sports also factors into this. The opening of the NBA, NHL and MLB to foreign players takes away much of the Olympic mystique.

So is this an economic issue or a cultural one? An interesting question and there certainly is no easy answer. The reality is that it's probably a little bit of both.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

SI, Part II

On the heels of release of its annual swimsuit issue, Sports Illustrated has announced that it will no longer sell print-only subscriptions. In other words, if you want access to the magazine you're going to have to pay $48 for an "All Access" bundle that includes print, Web, and tablet and phone Android applications.

It sounds like yet another death blow for print in general, and more specifically for the magazine industry, but it's actually a logical evolution of media technologies. "You're really buying a subscription to the brand, not a magazine," said an SI spokesman of the move, which makes a lot of sense, especially considering there is only a small difference in cost.

Dr. Samir Husni of our faculty, also known as "Mr. Magazine," said the move is an extension of what the cable industry has been doing for years. "You buy basic cable as a bundle," he said, "and you get a certain amount of channels. We're going to see a lot more of what I call 'cable-ization' of the magazine industry." Husni said it's also a way for SI to remove some of the hassles related to figuring out its subscription numbers. Instead of trying to determine separate numbers for print, web and phone, this allows SI to have one subscription total.

It's a move that makes sense for a lot of reasons, and not necessarily another sign of print's impending demise.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SI Swims in a High Tide

It has become an annual February event, but not even the Groundhog gets this much media attention. The new Sports Illustrated cover model has been announced, and on David Letterman, no less. What started as a relatively innocuous photo shoot in 1964 has become a worldwide media phenomenon.

There are obviously different ways to look at this. On a sociological level, women's groups (among many others) continue to decry the sexual objectification, although with everything else out there, including soft-core outlets like Maxim and FHM, it's hard to single out SI as somehow different or worse. Certainly one could argue that Maxim and FHM don't pretend to be something they are not, and that SI could just as well leave the cheesecake to others.

But the franchise is too successful and SI is simply making too much money at this point to turn away. From the very narrow perspective of media, what started as a way to fill a few pages during a slow sports month has now become a multi-platform money machine including magazines, videos and online sites. SI's success is also a testament to its ability to brand; there are a lot of similar swimsuit sites out there, but SI remains the icon and the leader. (Google "swimsuit models" and see how many sites are related to SI). Getting there first helped, but it doesn't keep you on top.

You may hate it; you might love it. But either way, get used to it. The SI swimsuit issue is not going away.

Friday, February 11, 2011

CFP: JoS on Athlete Sponsorship

The Journal of Sponsorship has opened a call for papers for a special issue on athlete sponsorship and endorsements.

The journal is seeking manuscripts on athlete sponsorship and endorsements and related topics. These include celebrity management; athlete sponsorship; entertainment personality sponsorship; and celebrities as brands. Other relevant subjects are strategies for sales of corporate sponsorship programs; brand and rights activation; evaluation and measurement; aligning athlete/celebrity sponsorship and brand values; return on investment; athlete sponsorship and PR; combining celebrity and community sponsorship; contract management; and legal and regulatory issues. Related topics such as the sponsorship of professional sports and the role of athletes, either individually or as a team, in those sponsorships are also encouraged.

Deadline for submissions: August 1st, 2011
Review Decisions by: September 15th 2011
Publication Issue: Journal of Sponsorship Volume 5 Number 2
Publication Date: March 2012

You can find more information about submissions here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Super Bowl Post-Mortem

Well, it's over for another season, and maybe even beyond that.

The always-over-the-top Super Bowl may have set another audience viewing record last night. Early, although unofficial, estimates have the game up 3% from last year's record-breaking Saints-Colts matchup. Some of that may be due to lack of quality counter-programming. Many competing stations either tried to tie in to the game (The Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet) or simply gave up, bowing to the inevitable (A Roseanne marathon on TV Land?). Perhaps there was also a sense that with a strike looming that could cancel the 2011 season, this was the last pro football anyone was going to see for awhile.

If so, the NFL went out with a bang--good game, interesting commercials, drama at the end, and nice production work from Fox. Yes, there were assorted problems related to the game, including lots of chirping about the hosts, but in the end nothing could slow down the runway train that is the Super Bowl on television. In the multi-channel, multi-platform universe we live in today, sporting events are lucky to draw a 10-20 rating and 30 share. Estimates suggest Super Bowl XLV pulled a 71 share--71% of all people watching television last night were watching the game.


Saturday, February 05, 2011

Weed Wacking and Waste Management

Remember the Weedeater Bowl? The Independence Bowl was actually called the Poulan Weedeater Bowl for a few years when the power tool company was the main corporate sponsor. That may have been the worst name ever for a sponsored sporting event, but it's getting a real challenge this weekend from the Waste Management Open, a PGA event in Scottsdale, AZ.

Really? The Waste Management Open? I realize we live in a time of corporate sponsorships, but there has to be a better name than this. Did weather problems "flush out" the first round on Thursday? Are the scores now "going to pot?"

The WM (or should it be BM?) Open brings to mind some other similarly misnamed sporting sponsorships:

The Bacardi Bowl: This college bowl game was played in Havana seven times, the last in 1946. No way it would work in today's climate, but imagine the sponsored parties during the week of the game. Instead of shooting t-shirts into the crowd, cheerleaders could throw bottles of rum.

The Bowl: Played in Florida, probably in a Walgreens parking lot.

Swingline Stapler Bowl: The official game mascot is called Petey the Paper Cut.

Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland): An Internet mortgage company, who doesn't want to borrow from a company that sounds like "Quicky Loans?" Maybe that's what scared away LeBron.

And what may be the winner: The TPC Blue Monster at Doral Golf Resort & Spa World Golf Championships CA Championship.

There was a time when golf tournaments were named after people--the Bing Crosby at Pebble Beach, Hope, Gleason ... even Sammy Davis had a tournament in Hartford. Just since 2000, the tournament that started as the Tampa Bay Classic, has been:

The Tampa Bay Classic;
The Tampa Bay Classic presented by Buick;
The Chrysler Championship;
The PODS Championship;
and new this year, The Transitions Championship.

Enough ranting. Certainly the players don't mind the millions of dollars poured into these events by corporate sponsors.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Signing Day Followup

Does any one sporting event deserve 10 consecutive hours of non-stop coverage? If it was the Super Bowl we would call it overkill, but no one seemed to have a problem with ESPNU going wall-to-wall with coverage of National Signing Day; a day when high school football players can officially sign their college letters of intent. It would be nice to think that the players did not see their shadows so we can forgo another six weeks of media coverage, but with the nation's #1 recruit still undecided that's not likely to happen.

National signing day is now behind us, but not quite over yet. The Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State is hosting a live online chat February 14 to discuss the issues and challenges related to this new sports media phenomenon. So if haven't yet made those Valentine's Day plans you can get in on the free conversation at this link. The discussion will take place at 1 pm (I'm assuming that's Eastern time).

I also wanted to call your attention to a call for a special issue of the International Journal of Sport Communication. The issue will focus on Innovative Communication in College Athletics, which is obviously a broad topic and one open to several different approaches. The deadline for submission is June 30, 2011 with the issue scheduled to publish in December. Other information, submission guidelines and contact information can be found here.