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Media Bias, Josh Beckett, Red Sox, and Changing Sports Landscape

by John on 05/10/2012

 This is a follow-up from my post on banning college football – and what I see happening in sports in America.

 Here’s my theory: The economy and our personal financial situations, it seems, are creeping into how we feel and react to sports – and our local teams. 

I need your input here. 

Again, right now, I am only seeing so-called “green shoots” of fan and taxpayer anger.  Is this a real trend?  And I may be more sensitive to the sports fan/taxpayer revolt – while currently living in the northeast and surrounded by the sports-crazy and media town of Boston. 

But there is a media bias component – that protects local teams — I can definitely address here.

Here we go.

The latest sprout of anger came this morning.  It’s a story about Red Sox alleged ace Josh Beckett.  Beckett was spotted playing golf the other day.  Big deal, right?  Yes, if it weren’t for these things:

  • Beckett was scratched from a start due to a strained lat muscle.
  • Only three days after his golf day, he was unable to help the Red Sox bullpen during a marathon 17-inning game which they lost because a position player was forced to pitch, while giving up a game-winning 3-run homer.

 Now, some clarity for those Red Sox fans seeing red.

  •  Many pitchers on their off-days play golf.  It kept the Atlanta Braves vaunted staff of the 1990s – Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine – sane and at the top of their games.
  • Playing golf, many times, can actually loosen your muscles.   You’re swinging easily and walking presumably.
  • And the anger might be a result of the Red Sox horrible start this season.

 Still, this is the buzz in sports talk around Boston and on ESPN.

 Here are a couple of reasons: 

  • The obvious reason is Beer and Chicken Gate in Boston.  Last season, Beckett and some of his pitching mates reportedly dined on order-in chicken and beer while the Sox cooked-up the worst season ending collapse in baseball history, failing to make the playoffs.  This year, the Sox aren’t getting take-out in the dugout but their pitchers are being taken out of the park by opposing hitters.
  • An underlying reason is the expense to fans.  Granted, we are passionate about the Red Sox here.  We expect them to win since the Curse of the Babe has been broken.  But since the last championship year of 2007, right before the financial crash, fans have seen an increase in ticket prices, parking fees, food concessions, and other expenses that make going to Fenway an expensive night out for the family.  The feeling I am getting from some fans is this: I am shelling out money for these over-paid, over-pampered athletes.  The anger also seems to be aimed at the ownership that has branched out into ownership of European soccer and sports marketing with clients like LaBron James.  I noticed a lot of empty seats at Fenway last weekend.  Is that a sign?  It could have also been the weather or the NBA playoffs.
  • It’s not just the Red Sox either.  I heard numerous fans growl at the New England Patriots.  Ticket prices and parking fees at Gillette Stadium have skyrocketed.  “[Patriots owner Robert] Kraft should be spending that money on some defensive backs or I will just watch this high school defense at home.”   Granted, the Pats made the Super Bowl, losing to the New York Giants, but many fans knew the Pats Defense was a patchwork of cheap and less skilled players – especially compared to past defenses that won three Super Bowls.
  • The anger boiled over last fall during the freak snow storm in New England that knocked out power to thousands – many in Foxboro, Massachusetts, the home of the Pats.  And locals were angry to see the stadium lit like Fourth of July while the food in their fridge spoiled.
  • And in Connecticut, Hall of Fame college hoops coach, Jim Calhoun, is questioned about his state salary at UConn during the Great Recession.    

 Let’s look at the media bias angle.

 First, let’s explore the specifics of the Josh Beckett story.  

  • Notice that the radio station – 98.5 The Sports Hub — that broke the story on Beckett’s golf outing was a station that did not have a contract with the Red Sox to broadcast their games.  The Sports Hub is a big competitor of WEEI Radio which has perennially carried the Red Sox games.
  • Granted, WEEI covered the story.  They let Sox Manager Bobby Valentine address it, but he seemed to either brush it off or say he would be looking into it.  As expected, he stood up and defended Beckett, saying Beckett wouldn’t hurt the teamBut we can assume this is not a story WEEI would have broken.

 Let’s look at the media from the macro-side. 

 Two things to remember: 

  • First, media outlets know their audiences; that knowledge attracts well-paying advertisers.  My suspicion is that 98.5 The Sports Hub feels the fan discontent.  You might see more “gotcha reports” from media outlets – not under contract with the local sports teams.
  • Second, most local media outlets rely on sports teams for content and profits.  Here’s a fact you wouldn’t know.  As a news anchor at NECN, my contract prohibited me from criticizing the local Boston sports teams.  In effect, it could have been an offense worth firing.  Why, you ask, since I was a news anchor?  Our sister station is Comcast Sports Net New England which carries the Boston Celtics, but covers extensively the Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins.

 So, watch closely WHO reports WHAT — on your local sports team.  And understand WHY.

 The Take-Away:

Today is different from the 1990s steroids scandal in baseball.  No baseball writers or journalists – with the exception of Bob Costas – raised the issue of performance enhancing drugs.  Players’ bodies were bulging; homerun records were shattered; and injuries had shorter recovery times.  Yet, no one saw this?  The reason: to steal from some Fed-speak; why take the punch bowl from the party.  These media outlets in the 1990s were thriving in ad revenues as the audience indulged in the free-spending, home equity windfall economy.  That is a far-cry from today’s no home equity, no retirement savings, and I need to rob a bank to pay one year of college tuition style economy.

 If I am right here, we will see a change in our sports teams and our sports TV viewing over the next decade.  The sports media will also get more cut-throat about gaining eyeballs rather than appeasing a local franchise they have no real deal with.  

 Also, this theory of mine could vanish if these teams win and the economy soars.  I am not counting on the latter.  To clarify, things should improve economically, but until we correct the structural deficiencies (income inequality, tax fairness, entitlement spending, and investing in new technology jobs), we are not going back to the Roaring 90s anytime soon.

 We’ll see.  Your turn.

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