Source: USA TODAY
I suppose there’s more than a little truth to the cliché that covering sports media is like James Bond going about his business.
But after my final USA TODAY Sports column, the last thing I want to do is decamp to some exotic locale to place enormous casino bets on, say, overnight TV sports ratings. Not that it wouldn’t be easy money, as I’m keeping the secret decoder ring programmed to decipher even the best ratings spin.
Nope, nobody should walk away from the sports business now: It’s more fascinating than ever.
But be wary of believing what everybody tells you is about to happen. I remember hearing that Olympic action would never be on cable TV – after all, that might cut into the almighty prime-time TV ratings – and that it was even more improbable that live video of big-event sports action would ever be streamed digitally.
After all, live action online kept freezing up – until, that is, broadband came along.
And live action online would be impossible because it would interfere with local TV deals – until technology made it possible to target digital users geographically.
And go figure: Viewers buying increasingly more gigantic TV sets wanted to use them. So when sports action went online it didn’t cut into TV ratings – it just reached viewers who weren’t near their TV sets.
There were lots of visions that sort of made sense at the time. Sports agents hoped technology would someday allow their athlete-clients to bypass pesky reporters and speak directly to fans via (carefully-manicured) personal websites. Technology finally allowed such direct give and take with fans but – oops! – it came through the sometimes-chaotic world of Twitter.
But despite the spotty track record for predictions about sports media, I’ll offer one up now: Its future will be shaped as much, probably way more, by the people behind the sports media rather than by their machines of the moment.
And while this wasn’t supposed to be declassified until at least 20 years after my demise, I’ll say it anyway: The people in sports media aren’t a bad bunch.
That’s easy to overlook as videos quickly pop in cyberspace to chronicle on-air gaffes. But don’t forget the on-air types aren’t just animated characters in a magic box. And the TV sports programmers don’t actually wake up in the morning bound and determined to produce TV sports coverage that is not exactly how you’d like it to be. As far as I can tell any way.
Thanks to USA TODAY allowing me to write columns and features on sports business and media since 1989, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know lots of sports industry people who are funny, creative and idiosyncratic. And entertainingly odd. I don’t want to name names about the many people I’ve admired and who’ve done their jobs with panache. Full personal disclosure: Wouldn’t it be awkward if I ended up working with somebody whose name I left out?
Now isn’t the time for anybody to get nostalgic in sports media. (Or, for me to necessarily toot my own horn by reminding everybody that I broke the story that mini-blimps were about to be floated above arena crowds and drop coupons. Just sayin’.)
It certainly isn’t the time for media strategists to blow smoke about the heritage, or supposed hipness, of their brands. This might seem hopelessly 20th century, but if websites just see their users as Ms. and Mr. Page View, and TV networks just see their viewers as feed lots of 18-49 year-olds, they’ll end up in trouble.
Thanks USA TODAY Sports, thanks Mom, thanks kids, thanks third-grade teacher, but the orchestra has been cued and I’m being led by both arms to the photo op room — and feeling pretty darn lucky about the past 24 years.