The local TV sports landscape is threatened.
Stations in Albany, NY, Norfolk, VA and more have dropped sports from their newscasts, while others have greatly reduced the time alloted to sports content. Station managers blame budget constraints, ratings dips and the belief they can’t compete with the ESPNs and Fox Sports Nets of the world for the format change.
They are right, but their decision making is so wrong.
The local sports anchor should be the trusted opinion regarding sports in the local marketplace, but it will take a major shift in approach. Here’s our prescription:
ESPN and Regional Sports Networks are not capable of covering deep into the local niche. High Schools, College, club teams, sports politics, charity events - these are the untapped markets.
“To stay relevant and provide value in my opinion you must become hyper-local,” says Mark Lewis, co-owner of Real World Sportscasting and a veteran sports anchor and reporter for over 25 years at the local level. “Become the station of record not only for the pro sports in your market, but even more importantly in the college and high school level sports. Own your niche.”
Covering high school and college events leaves a lasting effect on the community. Everyone watches their friends, neighbors and relatives when they are on TV, so being local-minded is a great way to build a fan base from the bottom up.
C.A. Tuggle, a 16-year veteran of local broadcast news and professor of Journalism at the University of North Carolina agrees that it all hinges on a change of mind set, “There is an inability or unwillingness of many sportscasters to break out of the club they so desperately want to be a part of (on a first-name basis with the star first baseman of the area’s pro franchise) and cover other sports that would broaden the base of potential viewers.”
Don’t settle for the biggest story on a national scale, dig deeper into the local stories that an audience will gravitate towards and talk about the next day at work.
A unique advantage local sports anchors have is the ability to be there every day. Don’t just read an Associated Press recap from the comfy confines of a desk, be at practice, in the locker room, press conferences, charity events, public appearances. Regional and National networks have more to cover so they won’t always be there.
“Personally I feel the most important skill is developing and cultivating relationships with peers, mentors, athletes, administrators, etc,” says Lewis. “It’s the relationships that will help you probe deeper in an interview with a player or coach and bring out compelling television.”
Sports Reporter Adam Mikulich (@AdamMikulich) of KUTV in Salt Lake City concurs, “Get to know your towns and teams by getting out of the newsroom and rubbing elbows with them. You’d be amazed by the stories that come from being a trusted face in the local sports community, the athletes respect and trust you when you are consistently there and know what you are talking about.”
Early in my career I worked at a national sports network, my audience was hard-core sports fans like me so it was relatively easy to produce a show. Later in my career, when I was producing sports segments on a national news network, my entire process had to change.
In a news environment, stories like Wang ZhiZhi being the first NBA player from China and Tim Tebow circumcising impoverished children in the Philippines became more important than who won the Red Sox - Orioles game. It’s incumbent upon Reporters, Anchors and Producers to learn what the audience wants and deliver upon that need.
“At KDRV-TV in Oregon, I produced, edited, and anchored weekly fishing and golf segments. Now, at WSIL-TV I franchise (shoot, produce, edit, and anchor) a women’s sport and fitness segment in the spring/summer,” says Kelly Burke (@KellyBurkeSprts), Sports Reporter for WSIL-TV in Southern Illinois. “It all adds up to features and reporting the average fan or viewer can’t see otherwise.”
I’m amazed by how many times I watch the local evening news only to see highlights from a pro or college game the previous night. Really? News that is 20 hours old they think is still important?
“If you start a story with the (insert pro team) beat the (name your opponent) last night, as virtually every [local] sportscast does, you’ve lost before even getting started” concedes Frank Shorr, Director of the Sports Institute at Boston University and Executive Sports Producer at WHDH in Boston for over 20 years. "Viewers are thirsty for something new, something they can share, and are you ready – something they can tweet!”
Social Media is a wonderful tool to deliver on the audience needs throughout the day, not just at 6 & 11.
Sportscasters and reporters have what the audience craves but can’t have – access! Share that with them through every avenue possible.
“The internet has forced sports reporters to communicate in a new way- I have to be available and original all day. Twitter, Facebook, and station websites allow me to interact and connect with viewers like never before,” concludes Burke. “The most important skills for a sportscaster or sports reporter in 2012 are by far versatility and a strong social media presence.”
The job of the local sportscaster has changed; multimedia experience ranks almost as high as charisma on camera. Just take a look at some examples from our Sports Broadcasting Job Board:
The time is now for the local sportscast to break free from the formula of years past and prove their value in every market.
Written by Brian Clapp, Founder SportsTVJobs.com and former Sports News Director, Producer, Writer & Editor