The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

TV strikes out; CJ’s in the bullpen

As hard as it might seem on sports fans now, the demise of local sports on television might be the precursor to a jock-world bonanza.

KRCG in Jefferson City, MO recently eliminated its sports department as part of a cost-cutting binge of layoffs. ???????? ????? ????????Clyde BentleyBut it is not the first station to do so. Stations from Norfolk to Las Vegas have given sports the ax in a move that seems antithetical to our belated realization that “local” means “popular.”

The trouble with local sports on television, however, is not the content itself. It’s the demographics of the market and the logistics of television.

Sports sections, be they on TV broadcasts or in newspapers, are advertising dogs. I cannot tell you how many times when I was a newspaper general manager I had to discount agency ads when they ended up in the sports section.

Sports fans are loyal readers or viewers. But they are guys. And guys seldom make buying decisions in American households. A study by Mediamark in 2004 showed that just under half of male readers go to the sports section but that less than a quarter of women do. That alone might not be a marketing challenge, but 63% of women peruse the general news section – joined by 57% of the men. You can also get a closer point spread in business, opinion, classified and even the comics.

An advertiser has to ask why they should display their wares to a bunch of fellows who don’t know a sale from a sail when they can get both the men and the real buyers in many other sections of the paper or segments of the TV news.

That’s bad for newspapers, but the emphasis on local news is doubly bad for television.

A newspaper typically covers a city and a few small towns around it. But the television station in the same market beams its programming over hundreds of square miles. The newspaper may have three or even a half dozen high schools in its coverage area. Even a small market station like KRCG has dozens of high schools, scores of junior highs and perhaps thousands of Little League teams. No one can afford to send reporters to all the games and no evening newscast has enough time to air all the stories.

TV stations do best covering what a whole lot of people want to watch. Local sports are important, but I have absolutely no interest in the junior varsity volleyball scores from a town I’m not sure how to drive to.
Fortunately, there is a great solution in the wings. And we don’t even have to invent it.

The Internet provides an easy way to disseminate that information widely without requiring everyone to read or watch it. As my old friend and media watcher Vin Crosbie once said, “The Internet is not a mass medium. It’s a massively delivered niche medium.”

Internet-facilitated coverage is ideal for sports. It’s cheap to publish, easy to access and allows the consumer to pick just the stories that interest them.

Of course, the technology alone doesn’t answer the staffing problem. That’s still a whole lot of games to cover. So bring in the citizen journalism cavalry.

I spent several years as a Little League then youth soccer dad. I bought an outrageously expensive telephoto lens so I could capture the mud on my goalkeeper-son’s face as he dove for the ball. And I wasn’t alone. It was surprising how many times I had to jockey for shots with other parents.
The parents are there, they are interested and they are shooting photos and recording stats. The hard work is organizing the effort to collect that information. Those of us who have worked in citizen journalism for any time at all know the fallacy of the “Field of Dreams Syndrome.” Just because you build the Web site doesn’t mean they will come.

Good. That means careers for journalists. Organizing parents and sports fans is not all that different than coordinating a huge newsroom. Or riding herd on the freelancers for a magazine. It can be done.
So sorry, sports fans. The tube is going dark. But not to worry, as the game will go on. Just stay tuned.

May 26, 2008 Posted by | Clyde Bentley | Leave a comment