Archive for April, 2012

Self-Made Media Critic Bruce Allen Puts Sports Media Personalities On Watch

With four major professional teams that are hugely popular, sports are always a topic of conversation in New England. In print, online and through the airwaves, there is an abundance of coverage for the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins.

Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch has blogged about sports media since 2002. Click above to see others weigh in on local sports media figures. (Photo: Patrick McHugh)

To find the best reporting, fans often flock to Boston Sports Media Watch to catch up on what is said regarding their teams. Run by media critic Bruce Allen, BSMW points out the best – and worst – the local outlets have to offer.

“Growing up I found when I looked at the sports section I enjoyed the TV sports columns,” Allen said. “I liked learning about the people who were covering the sports but also seeing the opinions on how they were doing their job. That was interesting.”

Observing Boston’s sports media landscape from his home in Epping, N.H., Allen is very unlike the personalities he covers. While many are loud and cynical – like the 98.5 WBZ-FM radio duo of Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti – Allen is reserved and easygoing. He doesn’t seek the spotlight and admits he has never been the type to go over-the-top to generate interest.

The website began as a hobby for Allen, an IT professional who specializes in Internet publishing and owns Bruce Allen Media, LLC. Discouraged by the state of sports media coverage, he sought a forum to express his opinions. Local New Hampshire newspapers did not have space to devote to media columns, so Allen launched the blog on his own in April of 2002. It has since grown into a definitive source for all things related to New England sports media, drawing more than 500,000 page views per month.

“I thought it was something I could maybe do as a side project, something additional to keep me interested, maybe make a little bit of money from it,” said Allen. “I didn’t have an endgame of it being a full-time career.”

Each weekday, Allen rounds up articles written about the local teams and posts links for readers to view on their own. BSMW also features commentary on important media issues and features comprehensive reviews of media members.

After humble beginnings, the website gained more clicks when longtime Boston Globe sports media columnist Bill Griffith mentioned it in his Sunday notes column in June of 2002. Since then, both fans and media members alike frequent the blog.

“Bruce is well-known by everyone in the media,” said George Cain, whose work as a media critic has appeared on BSMW as well as Sports of Boston. “They know that he has made them popular. The simplicity of the website allows people who read the website to know writers that they would not have necessarily known. Its significance is very important.”

Unlike other critics who are employed by media outlets and therefore limited in their range of commentary, Allen is not associated with any of the groups he covers.

“A lot of people tell me it’s good to have an independent voice,” Allen said. “Not being affiliated with a media outlet I think is an advantage in some aspects.”

The website has proved to be a creative outlet for Allen’s own commentary. A great example is the flowchart he made which diagrams Patriots coverage in a very tongue-in-cheek manner.

Allen has not been shy about letting his readers know how he feels regarding the media coverage. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan and WBZ-TV anchor Bob Lobel are two who have consistently earned his praise while Massarotti and Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy have drawn Allen’s criticism.

Over the years, many media members have benefitted from being mentioned for their work on the site, however, others have not taken kindly to being called out.

“Nobody likes to have their work criticized,” Allen said. “That’s just human nature. Thankfully I get a lot of feedback when I praise people too, so they appreciate that. I’ve gotten a number of angry emails; I’ve gotten some phone calls. I’ve tried to be level about it and explain to them what I was thinking and what I thought of when I did what I did.”

One of Allen’s biggest issues with modern sports coverage is the prevalence of each writer’s opinions showing through in their work.

“That’s probably the biggest beef I have with sports media nowadays is that it’s more opinionated than fact,” Allen said. “That creeps into the beat writers of the different sports, which you never saw years ago. Now they sneak in their opinion into their columns or their notebook pieces.”

Allen isn’t the only observer to see opinions seep into sports coverage. Media critic Paulsen [who only goes by one name] runs Sports Media Watch, a blog launched in 2006 that looks at trends in national sports coverage and the personalities associated with them. Like Allen, Paulsen senses that sports media coverage has become brash and bold.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a real shift toward loud, in-your-face style opinion in sports media, with an emphasis on cheap shots and cynicism,” Paulsen said. “Some – Bob Costas, for example – would attribute that to the rise of blogs, but I would go back perhaps to the launch of [the ESPN show] “Pardon the Interruption” in 2001. While “PTI” was never as bad as some of its predecessors, it set the stage for what we see today on both television and in print or online.”

Though keeping checks and balances on the media tends to ruffle some feathers, Cain believes an objective voice is necessary in sports.

“There are a hundred websites that critique news stations and how they cover the media,” Cain said. “There are very few on how they cover sports. That’s very important because bias is everywhere in our society … It’s important to have a website for people who maybe don’t notice those sorts of things to point out some of the biases going on every single day and see some of the hypocrisy of the media.”

Cain is one of many who have contributed guest work to BSMW. Ken Fang of Fang’s Bites submits a weekly post filled with links to national media stories, while former Boston Herald columnist Michael Gee, former Comcast SportsNet New England reporter Jackie Pepper and former WHDH-TV executive sports director and current Boston University professor Frank Shorr have all been featured on the site as well.

Allen himself has been featured on SB Nation Boston, where he writes a weekly media column, as well as Patriots Football Weekly where he interviews national media figures.

On April 8 BSMW reached a milestone with its 10-year anniversary, an occasion Allen used to reflect on his experiences and thank those who assisted him. With a wife and two kids, as well as a third arriving next month, Allen hopes to keep the blog going strong, but knows it will be a challenge.

“Ten years is a big deal for any website, especially a blog,” Allen said. “They weren’t that common at all when I started so it’s noteworthy in that respect. I have been thinking about [the future] a lot. I’ve thought of a few different concepts on how I could keep it going. I wouldn’t mind if other people wanted to come in and contribute. Hopefully people continue to read and enjoy it.”

Increasingly, sports coverage has extended to include social media. Both reporters and the teams they cover have turned to social media to connect with fans. Check out the video below to learn how social media has impacted sports.

Marathon Means Money: Boston Marathon Helps City Revenue in Big Way

Monday marks the 116th running of the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon. The event is one of the more popular events in Beantown, as it coincides with Patriots Day. With local schools closed and many residents given the day off from work, the race typically draws a big crowd along with the Red Sox annual 11 a.m. game at Fenway Park.

This year’s race looks like it will coincide with fantastic weather conditions, at least for the spectators. The temperature is expected to reach the high 80s, which has caused marathon organizers to caution inexperienced runners against participating for fear of heat-related complications. While the high heat isn’t the best thing for runners, it should help draw crowds along the street seeking sunshine.

In doing some quick research I was surprised to see just how much revenue the Marathon generates. According to the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, Monday’s race is expected to generate $137.5 million for the area. That is expected to be the second-largest revenue for the race behind only 1996 when the race field was expanded for the 100-year anniversary. This year, some 500,000 are expected to watch the roughly 27,000 participants navigate the 26.2-mile course.

The Visitors Bureau categorizes the revenue as follows: $92.4 million in money spent by athletes and guests, $16 million from fundraisers, $12 million by spectators, $10.1 million by sponsors and media and $7 million from the Boston Athletic Association. These figures have economists buzzing.

I always knew the race was big, however the $137.5 million tag really surprised me. Consider that this year’s NCAA Tournament Final Four in New Orleans drew $145 million for the Big Easy. The Final Four is undoubtedly a more popular sporting event, yet the numbers are very similar in the revenue column.

With all this business, it’s ready, set, go in Boston on Monday.

America’s Game, Eh: NHL Has Chance to Capture U.S. Attention

It’s no secret that Canada loves its hockey. Need proof? In 1994, the country officially recognized ice hockey as its official sport. Need more proof? Check out these reactions of Canadians after Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics that gave Canada the gold medal.

Stars like Sidney Crosby have helped the NHL gain popularity in the U.S.

Of course much of America loves hockey too, but with the prevalence of football, baseball and basketball, hockey has seemed to take a back seat in the eyes of U.S. sports fans. That may change this spring, however.

This article by the Wall Street Journal points out how the NHL is primed to grow in America this year. Of the 16 teams that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs, only two hail from Canada, the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators. With each of these teams falling behind in their opening round series, it seems like a good bet that this year’s Cup-winning team will hail from America for the 18th season in a row.

Next, consider the fact that hockey-crazed markets such as New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia all have playoff teams and all seem to have legitimate opportunities to win it all. This year’s playoff field also includes squads from non-traditional hockey markets such as Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix and Nashville, which allows the game to grow.

Of course star power means a lot in keeping fans interested, and some of the biggest names in the game are being featured this postseason. Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Claude Giroux, Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar are just some of the stars vying for hockey’s ultimate prize, and all are age 26 or younger. Exciting players like this can fill up the highlight reel.

The NHL also has the added benefit of a shortened NBA season. The NBA didn’t get going until Christmas Day, which pushed the start of its postseason to late April. College basketball just ended, baseball is only getting going, Tiger Woods isn’t dominating golf. Right now, there isn’t much in the sports landscape competing with the NHL.

Finally, NBC Sports has gone all in for this year’s playoffs. For the first time since the league went to a 16-team playoff format, every playoff game will be nationally televised either on NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC or the NHL Network. This far results have been positive, with TV ratings up nearly across the board. An added bonus: 46 percent of games (through early Saturday night) have gone to overtime. Pretty cool, eh?

Photo (cc) by Dan4th Nicholas and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Think Space: A Visit to the Boston Globe Idea Lab

On Thursday evening our class took a field trip to the Boston Globe Idea Lab, an open area of space at the Globe’s headquarters where new ideas are discussed and trends are analyzed. Creative technologist Chris Marstall led the tour,  while Damon Kiesow, Joel Abrams, Andy Boyle and Miranda Mulligan also spoke about their work.

Our class took a Thursday evening visit to the Boston Globe's Idea Lab (Photo: Michael Morisy).

There is always talk in the journalism industry regarding how newspapers are constantly evolving in order to keep up with changes in how people get their news. To see the Globe’s Idea Lab was to see this evolution at work. I did my second coop at the Globe in 2010 and have been doing some work in the sports section on and off since then. When I first began working, the Idea Lab was in its infancy as the building’s layout was being rearranged to make room. I had walked past the Lab before but never actually seen it until Thursday.

Our class got to see several interesting endeavors, including how the BostonGlobe.com website has been designed to allow for easy formatting on mobile devices, how stories are being shared on Twitter and what social media programs might be useful in the future.

These presentations were all intriguing, but the most interesting aspect to me was the creative aspect among the people there. It seemed like a fun place to work and with a great chemistry between those involved.  In many ways it reminded me of the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Ca. The Lab features lots of open space and seems to encourage branching out and always thinking outside the box.

Certainly not every newspaper can afford to devote an entire area of their office to having an idea lab, but I certainly think some of the larger papers would benefit from such an endeavor. The Lab workers admitted that not everything they collaborate on will be used by the company, but the hope is that some will, and that a big breakthrough could help the paper in a big way. It’s nice to see a newspaper be aggressive in improving its product and always working toward the future.

Bracketbusted: CAA and ESPN Part Ways, Future Relations Unknown

Having covered Northeastern athletics for the last five years — mostly basketball — I have seen my share of Colonial Athletic Association action. Last month I was in Richmond, Va. for the 2012 Virginia 529 College Savings Plan CAA Men’s Basketball Championship. VCU defeated Drexel in the title game to earn the league’s berth in the NCAA Tournament.

VCU won the 2012 CAA Tournament on ESPN. Next year the CAA is moving to NBC Sports. (Photo: Patrick McHugh)

With schools like VCU and George Mason making surprise runs to the Final Four recently, the CAA has proved to be one of the top mid-major conferences in college basketball. Just as impressive is the league’s performance on the gridiron. In the last decade, four CAA schools have won the Division 1 Football Championship with three schools finishing as runner-up.

Hoping to capitalize on its popularity and get more national attention, the CAA signed a five-year deal with NBC Sports to have its basketball and football games on the NBC Sports Network.

Since NBC Sports is seen as a competitor by ESPN, the move made by the CAA wasn’t taken too kindly by the folks at the Worldwide Leader. Each year since 2003, ESPN has hosted a BracketBusters weekend in which mid-major schools from opposing conferences play each other on national television so as to improve their tournament resume and gain more exposure prior to the NCAA Tournament. With the CAA abandoning ESPN for NBC Sports, ESPN decided not to include the CAA for next year’s BracketBusters series.

So where does this decision leave each party? There are different arguments on each side. Awful Announcing pointed out the CAA will no longer get positive treatment from ESPN, and the lack of exposure from the most-watched sports network could hurt the league when it comes to Selection Sunday. Unsurprisingly, NBC Sports had a different take, saying without the nation’s premier mid-major conference, BracketBusters will lose its appeal.

To me, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It’s true, without extra exposure from ESPN the CAA won’t have as much mainstream attention simply because NBC Sports doesn’t reach the amount of households that ESPN does. At the same time, BracketBusters now has lost some of its appeal without a top caliber mid-major conference.

Time will tell whether the split is beneficial or detrimental to either side, but if nothing else the war of words between the parties should be entertaining.

Tebow Time? Not for Reebok: Licensing and Lawsuits Between Sporting Companies

Tim Tebow has already made it well-known he is “excited” to be a member of the New York Jets after being traded from the Denver Broncos on March 21. The excitement for the quarterback’s arrival in the Big Apple led to a court battle between athletic companies Reebok and Nike.

Tim Tebow's trade to the Jets incited a lawsuit between Nike and Reebok.

Reebok has been the exclusive maker of licensed on-field apparel for the NFL since 2002 after agreeing to a 10-year, $250 million pact. Company rival Nike struck a five-year deal in October 2010 to replace Reebok when the contract expired. Nike was set to take over as the NFL’s exclusive partner on April 1.

Like he has done to opponents on the field, Tebow took the companies by storm when he was shipped to New York with 10 days remaining on Reebok’s apparel contract. In an effort to capitalize quickly on the Tebow trade, Reebok mass-produced Jets Tebow apparel to be sold in stores. In the first weekend after the trade, sporting goods retailer Modell’s reported selling more than 4,000 Tebow items.

The sales bonanza led to a legal battle between the companies. Nike requested and was granted a restraining order against Reebok on March 28 to cease sales of Tebow apparel. In the suit, Nike claimed that Reebok misappropriated publicity rights and interfered with business relationships. Reebok claimed it had an agreement with the NFL to continue selling items of up to five players who changed teams until its contract expired.

On Wednesday, that temporary order morphed into a preliminary injunction against Reebok, ordering that all Tebow-related apparel manufactured after March 1 was to be recalled. From now on, all Tebow products will be made by Nike, which unveiled its new uniforms for all 32 NFL teams on Tuesday.

Legal questions aside, the interesting aspect to the Tebow saga shows how significant an impact a player can have on sales. Nike knew it would eventually be able to start selling Tebow apparel once its new contract with the NFL kicked into gear. However, the instant demand for Tebow items was so high that it feared Reebok would garner all the possible profits from his move to N.Y. This is perhaps another reason why teams are willing to pay big money for a single player.

Photo (cc) by Jeffrey Beall and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Space for Rent: Advertisements on NBA Uniforms

They’re on the sideboards in hockey, the outfield walls in baseball, and more recently they’ve shown up on the field goal nets in football.

Kevin Durant isn't leaving Oklahoma City, but he could be sporting a new uniform next season.

Advertisements are everywhere in sports — everywhere in life when you think about it — and they’re not going anywhere. The only place they’re not are on uniforms, at least for the four major pro sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL). That might soon change in the NBA, however.

On April 12, the league’s owners will meet in New York for their annual board of governors meeting, the first since the lockout which delayed this season’s start until Christmas Day. According to some reports, the league is struggling mightily and lost $300 million last season, with 22 of its 30 teams losing money.

In an effort to generate revenue, a topic likely to be brought up is placing advertisements on uniforms. According to a study by Horizon Media, the NBA could make more than $31 million  by placing ads on jerseys.

NASCAR has been placing ads on drivers like they were magnets on a refrigerator, and the WNBA began the practice in 2009. Soccer clubs, both domestic and international, adorn their uniforms with ads as well.

Some owners have been vocal about making the additions to uniforms. Most notably, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been pushing his fellow owners and commissioner David Stern to get advertising on jerseys.

“I’ve been trying to tell [the NBA]. If someone wants to give us $10 million, I’ll make it happen,” Cuban was quoted as saying last week.

An issue with adding advertisements would be splitting the revenue money among all teams. It stands to reason that popular teams like the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls would generate more revenue via ads than less popular teams such as the Charlotte Bobcats or New Jersey Nets. The same goes for superstar players like Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant, who attract a host of attention by themselves.

The question of tradition is also at play. Teams like the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks have recognizable uniforms that have never been altered, and some fans would likely be upset to see this tradition replaced.

The general consensus seems to be the idea is a good one, but needs specific guidelines and boundaries so as to be beneficial to all teams and not disrupt a classic look.

Photo (cc) by Keith Allison and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.