Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Should Social Media Fit The Bills?

I'd like to think that those fortunate enough to be able to cover sports for a living would retain a passion for finding actual news and facts to report and seek the thrill of being the first to report or break an accurate story. It doesn't always appear to be that way, even in this era of technology and the additional resources it can bring.

Instead, I see more and more "items" like the one from WGRZ-TV channel 2 in Buffalo sportscaster Jonah Javad. While this is not intended to be a criticism of Javad's reporting or his sportscasts, it is intended to show the need for more aggressive sports reporting.

Last week, Javad was making a big deal about how WGRZ-TV has "teamed up" with the Bills fan social media community known as Bills Mafia. The "teaming up" includes Javad using some of the fan comments from Bills Mafia on his sportscasts along with promoting various fan polls and input.

Call me an old school fuddy-duddy if you must. But, come on, give those of us who watch or listen to a sportscast a break. Please. If we want opinions from casual fans on a slow news day, we can listen to many of the sports talk radio stations that seem to think these opinions are more important than player and coach interviews and score updates all day and evening long.

If I want to read what some of the hardcore Bills fans are thinking, I could also go on social media and see for myself, and respond if I care to. I certainly don't need to wait until the 6:00 news to see what fans might be talking about, especially when I should be seeing comments from Bills players and employees themselves instead.

In my opinion, it is things like this which are the cause of the decline in quality of the sportscast segments within local TV newscasts. This causes the "hardcore" sports audience to have no reason to watch when they can turn to a regional sports network and/or to ESPN for details. Some of the local TV newscasts have reduced or even eliminated the local sports segments as if they have already lost out to the sports only networks. They didn't have to. If WGRZ-TV was providing expert coverage of the Buffalo area teams far better than ESPN or the regional nets currently do, they'd be attracting viewers BECAUSE OF their sports segments. Instead of whisking them away.

This is not to say that Bills Mafia should not be of value to Javad and channel 2, as well as similar social media groups for local stations around the country. Instead of being content when it is really opinion, the Javads of the sports reporting world should be using these social media communities to gauge feedback and then to elicit "official" response to it.

Let me give a made-up example. Suppose a large percentage of the Bills Mafia community was posting about not being happy with the Bills' kicker. A sports "reporter" monitoring fan feedback, which is always one of the tips I pass along for my broadcasting students to do, should pick up on these complaints, and hopefully pull a couple of specific plays or games which prompted these complaints.

This reporter could, for example, research available free agent kickers and compare stats with the current kicker. Perhaps the reporter could get an on-camera or on-phone interview with a coach or team executive and ask if the team is pursuing another kicker.

Just maybe that reporter would come up with a story that there is an available kicker who compares statistically to the current one and provide or show the result of his or her question to a team official about it.

Doing this would show viewers that this reporter is looking to break a story, responsive to fan feedback, and is sincere about devoting coverage to the team. Isn't that better for viewers than simply grabbing a quote from some random fan in order to put a sportscast together?

Social media could enhance TV and radio sportscasts. Not take away from them.

Meanwhile, NBA executives are likely concerned about how the San Antonio vs. Memphis Western Conference Finals play out for ABC/ESPN. Even though the Spurs have had a national network presence with their continuing success over the past 15 years, the Spurs have not always drawn the TV ratings to reflect that. And now with playing against the Memphis Grizzlies, the 'big market' factor is out the window. Both New York and both Los Angeles teams are now eliminated, as are Chicago and Boston. There go the markets that bring in the big numbers, both in terms of local audience and somewhat of a national following.

It showed in Game 1, with the lowest Conference Finals ratings in six years, and ratings lower than the majority of opening round telecasts from this playoff season. That this is happening while the national TV rights for NBA telecasts are about to be negotiated is significant. The NBA is undoubtedly counting on a bidding war from Fox Sports and the likes of TNT and ESPN looking to retain the relationship with the league. Obviously, poor Conference Finals ratings could reduce the bidding among the potential suitors.

Perhaps the fans could benefit by this. We know that at least one network will pony up to get the rights to these games. If that network or those networks secure the rights for less money, it should mean less out of pocket for cable and satellite subscribers because of it.

This is why the current situation surrounding the Houston Astros could wind up helping consumers in the long run. The Astros having a pathetic season and alienating their fan base has already resulted in their new regional TV Network not being picked up by many cable and satellite systems. Reportedly under half of the homes in the Houston area can't even get the games, with reports surfacing that some consumers have gone as far as to ask their cable system NOT to bring on the channel.

Frankly, I'm in favor of that. The public needs to be heard and not charged each month even if they don't want the games. In this case, the lack of being carried directly costs the team money that is saved by consumers.

For years and years the public had local team telecasts on "free" TV and it was completely advertiser supported. Let that be the case now, or don't show the games. It should not be up to consumers to pay for these games whether we want them or not. Based on the ratings over the past couple of years, there is a big demand for live TV sports. Even the Super Bowl telecast sells out. Let the advertisers pay the freight and not consumers.

JACKSONVILLE: Even if the Jaguars still are not going anywhere in the standings for the coming season, the radio coverage of team certainly is. The radio team of Brian Sexton with analysts Jeff Lageman and Tony Boselli (with Boselli added for the 2013 season) will also appear on team related programming on WOKV 104.5. The station is planning 2-hour shows on Monday nights (to recap) and Thursday nights (to preview) which will involve the broadcast team. Boselli joins the radio team after having been the TV analyst for the team's pre-season games for the previous seven seasons. Sexton, meanwhile returns for his 19th season as the voice of the Jaguars, having called every game in the team's history.

St. LOUIS: KXOX 101.1 is about to begin its final season as the Rams' flagship station, although word is the station holds options to continue. What the station will do for Saturdays of college football is still not settled. As of press time, it is still not definite that the station will continue to air St. Louis University football, since that deal expired at the end of last season. The station does have the option to replace, or add, University of Illinois football, since that package was dropped by KFNS along with its sports programming.

DALLAS: Abilene Christian University is about to enter NCAA Division I football with its move to the Southland Conference for this season, but that still isn't enough to get either of the three Dallas sports stations to be interested in airing the games. That part is understandable. To its credit, the school has partnered to get its games on the radio in Dallas. In addition to its flagship station 98.1 The Ticket in Abilene, the school's games will air in Dallas on KBXD 1480, which otherwise is a gospel music format.

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