Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Old School Journalism does in Tressel

The big news from this Memorial Day weekend was the resignation of Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel; not exactly a shocking piece of news considering the growing evidence of Buckeye wrongdoing under Tressel.

The latest issue of Sports Illustrated has an in-depth report on what happened at Ohio State, and digs even deeper into what has become a sordid affair. Particularly interesting is this section of the story: "Tressel was forced out three days after Sports Illustrated alerted Ohio State officials that the wrongdoing by Tressel's players was far more widespread than had been reported." Reading between the lines, SI is apparently taking credit for forcing Tressel's ouster.

There's nothing wrong with SI tooting its own horn, and it also shows the power of investigative sports journalism. Outlets like SI and ESPN's Outside the Lines have the power to effect significant change in sports. (Remember, it was SI that just a couple of years ago uncovered Alex Rodriguez' steroid use). ESPN's "30 for 30" series has also been effective in this regard; in the film on SMU, the newspaper wars in 1980s Dallas were credited with bringing down the school's renegade football program.

We talk a lot about the fragmentation of today's sports media--the growth of blogging, fan participation and do-it-yourself sports content. But there is still a place for "old school" investigative sports journalism--working sources, following leads and digging for information that may take months to find. In other words, serious work by trained journalists.

Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pay to Play

In case you were not aware, there is a relatively new sports journal offering research publishing opportunities. The Journal of Physical Education and Sports Management publishes original articles in basic and applied research, case studies, critical reviews, surveys, essays, opinions and commentaries. JPESM is currently looking for qualified researchers to join its editorial team as editors, sub-editors and/or reviewers.

I didn't know much about this journal, but one of the interesting (and at least to me, discouraging) things I found was this note on their website: "Authors are required to pay a $550 dollar handling fee." Although the journal explains that publication is not contingent upon the author's ability to pay, and the journal may waive some of the fee under special circumstances, that still seems like a bad precedent to me. I assume it's because the journal is "open access," which means it's not charging a subscription for other people to see it. But $550 is a lot of money to me, and it seems like it would discourage some otherwise good scholarship. I hope it is not the wave of the future in terms of journal economics. I understand the realities of the publishing business, but I can't see how this model can sustain itself (especially since the journal publishes monthly).

Anyway, if you are interested in becoming an editor or helping the journal, you can contact them at manuscript.jpesm@gmail.com. If you are interested in submitting, there is more information available at this link.

Monday, May 23, 2011

It's Been a Long Weekend ...

... and I don't mean sports-wise (although that is true). My daughter Emily graduated from Oxford High School this weekend and it was a great time. Lots of family in and a terrific graduation party at our house.

So instead of talking about sports, which admittedly gets less interesting for me as time goes on, this picture is really what mattered to me this weekend.

Congratulations, Emily and to all graduates of the class of 2011.

Monday, May 16, 2011

TV Markets and Media

Interesting that the final four for both the NBA and NHL playoffs are dominated by sun belt teams. In the NHL it's San Jose and Tampa (along with Boston and Vancouver), and in the NBA, Miami, Dallas and Oklahoma City (who will play an interesting I-35 Western Conference Finals) join Chicago. Free agency has a lot to do with it. If you're LeBron James and can make millions no matter where you play, doesn't sunny Miami sound a lot better than frigid Cleveland?

On paper, TV executives seem to be happy with the remaining teams. After all, you've got markets 6 (San Jose), 7 (Boston) and 14 (Tampa) in the NHL, while the NBA has 3 (Chicago), 5 (Dallas), and 16 (Miami), to go along with 45 (Oklahoma City). But looking at it in terms of TV markets is old school thinking; the same kind of thinking that mistakenly got the NHL to add teams in places like Charlotte, Atlanta and Phoenix.

The emphasis today is on national appeal, and big stars can play in little markets. Thus, an NBA Finals matching Miami (with you-know-who) and Oklahoma City (with Kevin Durant) is probably a more compelling television product than Dallas-Chicago, even though the TV markets are smaller. And would anyone outside of San Jose and Tampa watch that matchup in the Stanley Cup Finals?

Today's sports programming needs stars (i.e. celebrities) and storylines to succeed. Golf has consistently shown that without Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson it has trouble getting audiences to watch. The Players Championship, which the PGA has aggressively tried to market as a 5th major, took place this weekend in virtual anonymity.

The NBA should hope the Heat, even in market 16, rally to make the NBA Finals. As for the NHL, Boston-Vancouver looks like it would be the best draw.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dwight Writes in Small Bites

Sorry it's been awhile since a post; blogger.com was down most of the week for maintenance.

Interesting stories filtering through Orlando and New York regarding Magic center Dwight Howard. The NBA All-Star is accusing the local newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel, of trying to "run him out of town." The Sentinel has published several articles essentially telling the free-agent-t0-be that he needs to let the Magic know his plans so the team can avoid a situation like last summer, when LeBron's surprise announcement left the stunned Cavaliers little time to rebuild.

Nothing much new here; athletes and newspapers have been feuding for decades. What's interesting is that Howard is not using the newspaper (or TV or radio) to fight back, but Twitter. He's posting messages and updates such as, "“I'm not blaming the media,” Howard would say in a later tweet. “I'm saying stop with the dumb articles." (To be honest, I'm not sure what the distinction is there).

This is how the modern athlete uses social media--as a means of connecting with fans, shaping a personal message, and of course, responding to outside criticism. Why bother to respond to the Sentinel (circulation 172,000 and falling) when Howard can reach more people (Dwight Howard Twitter followers: 2.02 million and climbing). Howard's affinity for Twitter is well known, but he's certainly not alone among athletes.

Maybe they should start taking classes or instruction on Twitter and PR strategies or crisis communications ...

Monday, May 09, 2011

Please Explain

I'm trying to figure out why I can't watch the NHL game tonight between the Predators and Canucks on the Versus Network. On DirecTV, the game is blacked out in my area, I assume because I'm considered in the 'local market' (even though I am five hours by car from Nashville).

At the same time, I have no problem picking up the Grizzlies-Thunder game on TNT, even though I live less than an hour from Memphis.

It looks like the Canucks are going to wrap up the series tonight, but I still would have liked to see it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

To Be There ... Or Not Be There

"You had to be there!"

How many times have we gone to a sporting event and said that later to a friend who wasn't at the game? But the actual live experience has lost something in recent years. For one thing, it's crazy expensive to go to a game these days, and in a bad economy the average fan simply can't often afford it.

More importantly, television (and the web) have now developed to the point where it's actually much better to stay home and watch the game. High definition, multiple angles, and now (in a limited fashion) 3D sports, are making the mediated experience better than the game experience.

Take last night's no-hitter thrown by Francisco Liriano of the Twins, who beat the White Sox, 1-0. MLB Network cut live to the game in the bottom of the 9th, so fans all across the country could see the dramatic ending. Not only did they see the no-hitter, they also saw less than 21,000 fans shivering in the Chicago cold as temperatures hovered in the mid-30s. In Detroit, the players' breath was clearly visible on a similarly cold night. Which experience was better ... watching it live in the freezing cold or seeing the same thing in the comfort of your home? (FYI, I was at old Comiskey Park to see Jack Morris' no-hitter in 1984, and almost froze to death).

Writing on baseball's attendance problems this season, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated frames the issue: "How do you keep the in-person experience special in the face of connectivity options that were intended to be complementary but grow to become competition? If DVRs and large, high-def flat screens and whiz-bang camerawork made the couch more attractive than 50-yard line seats, what more erosion will come from 3D TV refinement and other advancements?"

That's what every sport now faces, especially in an era of inflated attendance costs. "We aren't just going to invest on new technologies that serve people at home," says Brian Rolapp, the NFL's Vice President for Digital Media. "We will continue to invest to make the stadium experience better."

But as the mediated experience becomes better and better, making the stadium experience better will become even harder to do. These days, "You had to be there to see it!" is often replaced with, "I caught it on YouTube!"

Monday, May 02, 2011

Monday Musings

While we all digest the news of Osama Bin Laden's demise ...

Is there a better time of year for the sports media than right now? This week, we've seen the NBA and NHL playoffs, major league baseball, and the NFL draft. Add some spring college football, and it's hard to drag yourself away from the television or Internet.

If you're not watching the NHL playoffs (and relatively speaking, hardly anyone does), then you're missing a real treat. In 13 days of play so far, 12 games have gone to overtime, including Sunday's win by Tampa Bay over Washington. The coverage by NBC and Versus so far has been excellent, and Ed Olczyk might be the most underrated analyst on sports television. He made a great point in the Lightning-Caps game as to how Washington tied it up with a minute to play. Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman lost his stick and was handed a replacement by one of his forwards. But because Hedman is a lefthander and the stick was for a righthander, Headman couldn't clear a puck when it came to him, and that allowed Alex Ovechkin to tie the game with 1:07 to play. Olczyk noticed it immediately; all part of his great work with partner Mike Emrick. Emrick has done his usual terrific job and is simply the best play-by-play man in hockey.

The downside of all this for the NHL is the strong possibility of another small market Stanley Cup finals. How does a Tampa Bay-San Jose (or Nashville) final grab you? It can't appeal to the NHL, which is in danger of losing Washington, Detroit and Philadelphia before the conference finals even begin. (But having Nashville in the finals would bring about one consolation--more views of coach Barry Trotz, an Edward G. Robinson look-a-like who is a nice guy, but may be the most intimidating-looking coach in pro sports).

Just about everything that could be said about the NFL Draft already has been said. The two big stories were the guys expected to be drafted early, but who had to wait until the second day--quarterback Ryan Mallett of Arkansas and defensive tackle Da'Quan Bowers of Clemson. Health and off the field issues caused both players to slide down draft boards.

We know so much about players like Mallett and Bowers; their every move is dissected, analyzed and discussed on radio, television and the Web. For some reason, it made me think of a time when we knew hardly anything about college players. Entertainer Bob Hope used to host a post-season show in which he introduced players named to the All-America football team. The player would come out in full uniform, Bob would make a corny joke, and the player would laugh nervously before heading off. For many people, this was the only time they ever saw some of these players in uniform.

Enjoy some old-timey humor from 1984. (And also check out Bruce Smith, Doug Flutie and Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio).