Proliferation of TV sports de-emphasizes journalism

Posted Sept. 09, 2008, at 9:43 p.m.

Just who watches all this stuff is a question worth pondering. “All this stuff” is the volume of sports on television. Everywhere and all the time is now a given in TV sports, and there is more on the way.

The University of Texas is exploring the creation of its own network. The network’s foundation would be Longhorn football, but all of the school’s sports would be on the air.

They will have to be to fill the 24/7 concept.

This is a continuation of the slicing of the broadcast pie into smaller and smaller bits, each of which requires less revenue to be profitable. Using the Red Sox as an example, televised games have gone from one per weekend in the 1950s and ’60s to every game on NESN and reruns.

Along the way, the number of games was expanded on stations like TV-38 in Boston, the former Sox rights holder, to the point where team executives all over MLB looked at the horizon and said we can make money off our own networks. They do.

That same process has happened to colleges. The Big Ten created its own network a few years ago and other conferences are exploring the same options.

Texas is taking the next step. The college looked at the success of the Big Ten and said we don’t need a network with other schools; we have enough programming and interest to own our own.

The progress of the Longhorn network will now be the example for other schools.

The problem in such ventures is getting the product to the viewer. A satellite service, cable network or over-the-air provider has to agree to carry the programs. Over-the-air outlets can’t afford to do that, unless you’re Notre Dame football.

The audience obviously continues to be sliced. Texas has an enormous following of millions. That audience is loyal and willing to pay to see “their team.”

That is the reason for success for all sports teams at every level who produce and deliver their games.

Again, the rich get richer and the poor look on.

With all this division of the sports market, the major networks find it harder and harder to compete. They need a wider audience and that audience is off looking at their teams.

One victim of this progression is the idea of sports journalism. It was easy for the announcers of game of the week shows on the networks to be independent and factual.

The teams and leagues needed the network for coverage.

Now the leagues and the teams of those leagues have their own networks. The announcers they hire are often expected to spin the product.

That spin usually doesn’t include covering the stories of players doping up or wandering around bars with weapons at 3 a.m. on a game day.

The journalism, what’s left of it, has gone to a few, a very few, spots such as Real Sports on HBO or continues in papers of integrity, both locally and nationally.

In fact, at a time when the papers struggle across the nation to stay afloat, they have become a last bastion of sports journalism. Unfortunately, that status is in jeopardy as investigative work in sportswriting becomes moment-to-moment blogs that carry whatever happens to be available at the moment, which usually has zero substantive content.

If we as sports fans don’t demand better, we won’t get it.

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