The End of Sports Reporting As We Know It?
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
If you ask an NFL fan who the Washington Redskins’ biggest rival is, you might hear any one of three answers: The Dallas Cowboys, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the New York Giants. All decent answers, but all incorrect.The Redskins’ fiercest rival next season may very well be the Washington Post, and the battle between Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and the newspaper may fundamentally change the way fans get their sports news.
Snyder and the Post have been at war over various issues for a while, but the one issue that should be at the forefront is reporting. The Post has been very upset with Snyder and his team ever since they decided to break news on the Redskins’ Web site. The organization has made a decision that most news about the team should flow from its own site, so the team breaks exclusive news and provides exclusive interviews with coaches, players, and front office personnel on the site. That means papers like the Post and the Washington Times, along with Washington area TV and radio stations, are suddenly left to report old news.
Officials at the Post are probably even more upset about having little recourse. Snyder’s Redskins are a private company, one that does not have to give access to the Post, the Times, the Washington Examiner, or the area’s broadcast outlets. In fact, Snyder has a deal with a local sports cable network and will begin operating three lowpowered radio stations in the District this month. The Washington Post also leases time to a radio station in the District, which means the Redskins and the Post are competing for news on a number of levels.
The Post is threatening to arm their Redskins beat reporters with video cameras so they can tape interviews and run them on the Post’s website, which would create direct competition with the Redskins’ site. The Redskins, of course, control interviews with all personnel, so this could set up a battle that might change the very nature of sports reporting. The Redskins could bar Post reporters from attending coach Joe Gibbs’s news conferences or from the team’s training facility or locker room.
The Redskins’ deal with Comcast Sports Net Mid-Atlantic cable TV network includes a live two-hour postgame show from the locker room. Could the Redskins literally bar Post reporters from the locker room if they bring in cameras to compete with both the Web site and the Comcast show? It’s a possibility, though it would seem to be an extremely complex situation considering that other TV outlets are shooting player interviews.
But the NFL is already restricting TV access, starting this preseason by limiting the number of TV reporters allowed on the field following a game to do interviews. The NFL claims it has the safety of reporters in mind, but the NFL has its own TV network and has a deal with Sprint to provide cellular users with post-game information.
Both the Redskins and the league could easily get away with limiting reporters’ access and still get their message out, whether through the Redskins’ Web site, the NFL’s website, Comcast Sports Net, or the NFL Network and make money from advertising or Web site/cellular subscriptions.
In Europe, most soccer fans get their news from team Web sites or cellular phones, not newspapers. Sure, newspaper columnists still provide the independent, often critical, viewpoint. But in the age of fantasy sports and statistical analysis, more and more fans are in search of the kind of injury reports, performance updates, and front office information that can be best when coming directly from the source. In America, fans are becoming increasingly accustomed to using their computers or picking up their cell phones for sports information. As cell phones improve and catch up to European levels of sports video and audio, team owners know they can make a boatload of money from both broadband (Internet) and cellular platforms.
Snyder’s radio stations are too small to be huge revenue producers, but if he puts streaming audio onto his Web site from the stations, he’ll be able to sell Redskins football 24 hours a day, seven days a week, forever. Redskins fans will get news directly from the team, which could do tremendous damage to the Post.
Teams are just beginning to understand how they can control the news. Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan invited seven beat writers to his “informal” session about the Larry Brown firing, but to make sure the message got out “correctly,” Dolan’s MSG cable TV network taped the proceeding and had Dolan give his version of events surrounding the Brown firing without press scrutiny. Dolan owns the teams and the press outlet.
More and more teams are going that route. The St. Louis Cardinals, for one example, left the powerful KMOX radio for KTRS radio, a station whose signal cannot be picked up 15 miles from the ballpark. But it’s Cardinals all day and night for those who do get the station. The Cardinals can break news about the team from two sources: their radio station and their Web site.
The Boston Red Sox’ new radio deal, beginning in 2007, includes an option to purchase a minority interest in the flagship station WRKO and its parent company, Entercom. The team will be able to break news from three sources: the New England Sports Network, their Web site and their radio station.
So far, teams have hesitated to stop reporters from attempting to obtain breaking information, but the Snyder-Washington Post feud could be the beginning of a new era in how fans get information about teams and games. Should Snyder freeze out the Post, Redskins fans may decide that getting news from Redskins TV shows on Comcast or the team’s Web site or the team’s radio station isn’t a bad idea after all, and that they don’t need the Washington Post newspaper or radio station for information.