Could the Sun be Setting on the local TV sportscast?

Okay, I admit it. In our household, my wife is the one who is the sports fanatic. While she’s mellowed just a tad over the past few years, the start of college football season (not pro) gets her pumped up like the arrival of cooler weather does for me here in the MidSouth. Oh, I played basketball through my freshman year in high school and used to enjoy a pick-up game now and then. I will go to a couple of college football games and may even watch a little of a big game or a good rivalry on TV, but I can take it or leave it. During college football and basketball season, my wife goes to the sports page first. I may never even look at it. She also listens to sports talk radio during the college fall and spring seasons. But she doesn’t watch local TV sports. Apparently, she’s not alone and the ranks are growing. These days if you want to see a college team covered, you go to one of the cable channels.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen some most excellent things on local sportscasts. But of the three things that are covered in a half hour newscast; News, Weather and Sports, Weather is Topic Number 1 when it comes to the interest of the viewers. News is Number 2 and I don’t mean that literally. It’s just that with the arrival of meters in the markets such as Memphis, news crews rarely leave the Metro area unless it’s for a big murder or disaster. Viewers in the outlying areas really don’t care about the latest crime or fire in Memphis or any other big city. They want to know what’s going on in their town and TV news doesn’t seem to cover that anymore. Then there is the Sports segment. Generally speaking, Sports has seen its time cut in many half hour news casts and in some cases, the plug has been pulled on it altogether. Yah, on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, some shops ramp up their coverage of high school or college football and some may even offer a half hour show after the regular newscast.
Some say the sports information should be produced like a news piece. Provide coverage of something when its truly sports worthy and run the scores at the bottom of the screen during a newscast or use full screens of scores to bump to commercials.
I have seen some amazing story telling from some sports people. While there are some who merely “phone it in”, others are out there busting their hump to tell a story. When it comes to ad-libbing, it’s hard to beat a sportscaster who honed his or her skills on radio. To this day, the most remarkable job of ad-libbing I ever saw came when I was working weekends at the Station Down on the River. The weekend guy, (now the weekday guy) was to hit a football satellite shot out of Fayetteville, Arkansas about halfway through his sports cast. He was down to ten seconds in the countdown to the live shot when the producer started screaming that the signal was down and it would take a couple of minutes to re-establish. I got ready to start doing some cross talk with the sports guy to fill time but he never missed a beat. He proceeded to ad-lib with pertinent information for about a minute and a half and then smoothly transitioned into the satellite shot. Viewers never had a clue anything was amiss. I always wished I had those kind of skills.
But some of what passes for sports is pretty difficult to take. I know we have a number of blue-chip athletes in this area but do we really need video of some news conference where some jock finally reveals where he or she (but primarily he) is going to attend college. In the grand scheme of things, most people don’t really care. Do we really need to hear from some athlete why a game was won or lost. Just once I’d like to hear some athlete say “We lost because they scored more points than we did”.
It’s no secret that consultants generally hate sports and overall, viewers start tuning out of a newscast when sports starts. Some predict that in ten years, the local sportscast will have pretty much disappeared from the half hour news broadcast. Somebody will miss it. It just won’t be me.

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5 Comments on “Could the Sun be Setting on the local TV sportscast?”

  1. Bob Jacobs Says:

    Sports has always been the bastard child of the newsroom. We often give the primary anchor the title of “sports director,” but the person is rarely in a position of power. I’m one of those people who thought sports should be produced like news. Some days, it’s the lead. Others, it may be little more than a few full screen graphics. And let’s not ignore the fact that sports today is mostly about entertainment, not athletic achievement. The friday night high-school roundups may work wonders for a television station’s reputation in Butte, but it would mean nothing to Washington DC. I used to be a harsh critic of a local television sportscaster in Nashville who made a living playing network wraps of major sporting events saying, “Here’s how it went.” Yep, that was a reporter who knew his market — NOT! Good local sports coverage is about the local people and their challenges and achivements. In other words, it’s good NEWS coverage. Real Sports on HBO works because of its humanity and its look into what’s going on behind the game. A good sports reporter is a good storyteller. It’s about humanity. It’s about overcoming obstacles. If all you’re going to do is spend 3:15 running highlights of the NFL, ESPN does a much better job. Give the time back to weather.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    At one point did sports come before weather?

  3. Average Guy Says:

    Here is the reality. Viewers say they want local sports, but then tune out when a story of the local college’s girls volleyball team wins the conference tournament. The only exception is high school football and the Friday wrap-up shows. Most sports anchors come in at 2p, pull some wire copy of an odd-ball story for the early newscast and then give the viewers scores/highlights during the late newscast. Scores/highlights are available 24/7 via cable and the internet so local sports doing that is nothing spectacular. Local sports stories, which viewers say they want, don’t draw ratings.

    Local sportscasts, with the exception of the unique, local feature piece (which will morph into a news feature), are a thing of the past. Any talent wannabe is better off focusing on meteorology or news. Unless you’re really good and can hook on to a national sports outlet or a large market with NFL/NBA or MLB, there will not be a place for you in the local TV newscast of the future.
    The GM

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Viewers don’t care for local sports because news outlets don’t care. Why should I watch them try to cram everything into the whole 90 seconds they are given? There are a couple of radio stations in town that have longer sportscasts than a couple of the local TV stations. But what’s really funny is when news takes over a sports story. Channel 5 is notorious for that.

  5. jamey tucker Says:

    “longtime listener, first time caller”.

    Local sports on tv is hurt by local sports talk on the radio. Big sports fans, the types who’re most likely to watch the 2 minutes at 10, have listened to sports talk on the drive to work and back home. They watch ESPN, or “Best Damn Sports” when they want scores and details.
    Local sports exists today for local sports coverage. Long gone are the days of baseball scores and highlights and playoff chases. It exists for high school football and some hs basketball and baseball. Besides coverage of the local college/pro teams, it’s the only thing fans get from local tv that they can’t get from national. But…they do get it and more from sports talk radio.
    Granted, most of the talk is not from journalists but from the jaybob down the street, but a great deal of sports is conjecture and analysis anyway.
    I remember my second tv job in the early 90s and our sports guy actually got 2 segments! He had it all. Every baseball/football/basketall score and highlight. No need to go to ESPN.
    Local sports coverage from local tv moved away from being essential to the sports fan, to being something for the casual sports fan.

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