Executives See Sports Growth, Media Conflicts In Future
The Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism hosted a panel discussion on “Sports in Transition” Tuesday, welcoming guests from all sports and media backgrounds. The guests included Ed Goren, vice chairman of Fox Sports; Mike James, sports editor of the Los Angeles Times; Molly Jolly, senior VP of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Paula Madison, owner of the Los Angeles Sparks; and Robert Sarver, owner of the Phoenix Suns.
A packed house, filled with as many suits as sweatshirts, welcomed the five guests to the Town & Gown Building at the University of Southern California.
The panel opened up for discussion of the main topic: What is the future of sports and sports media?
Nearly all of the guests said these industries would expand over the next couple of years due to new technologies.
“The leagues will always get more and more money,” Goren explained. “The networks are paying upwards of $1 billion to broadcast NFL games on Sundays. And now there’s more and more TV everywhere – on tablets and phones. Who do you think will own those rights?”
Because of the use of new technologies, the panel collectively agreed that more people could be reached and, because of that, more money could be made.
But as much money as there is in the United States, theses owners and executives are also looking abroad to expand.
Jolly explained that when her Angels signed Japanese baseball icon Hideki Matsui last season, that judging from the numbers at the turnstiles, there was increased buzz and support from international and Asian-American fans.
“Sports is unlike anything else in the world," Sarver said to support Jolly's point. "You can try to export comedy, but then you’d have to rewrite it. Sports translates across borders.”
The stats back him up.
Nearly one-third of all NBA players who currently play – or are waiting to play – are foreign-born. Also, Sarver said that more people play basketball in China than live in the United States, creating a hotbed for NBA demand.
There is also an intense fan base growing on the Internet,
where social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have revolutionized the way sports organizations interact with fans.
The Phoenix Suns claim to have 625,000 Facebook friends – over 500,000 more than last year – and have become the first professional sports team to be invited to Google+. They have also started selling tickets on Twitter and have hired a “social media sideline reporter.”
With all of this new media erupting, Sarver says the Internet is like an “online sports bar.”
But while the advent of social networking comes as a blessing to the sports execs, the media honchos aren’t as thrilled. Like other big-time editors, Mike James is worried about the future of his business.
“I worry about the viability of keeping news organizations going,” he says. “We talk about bloggers like we used to talk about columnists.
“When I started in the business, [the newspapers] distributed the news. Nowadays, it’s the organizations and the players. If we continue to struggle like this, we will find info coming from resources that have very biased and skewed interests.”
The panel discussed how the speed of Twitter puts more pressure on the established media to put out stories.
“I’d rather be second and right than first and wrong,” Goren said, explaining why he's not fazed by Twitter.
But James acknowledged Twitter has changed the game.
“The two-source thing is out the window on most stories. We’ve got to present something in the paper now that’s different than just the game score," he said.
The panel was very divided on the issue of social networks. The sports execs enjoyed the fan involvement while the media heads worried about the Internet’s impact on journalism.
Regardless of which side the panelists were on, they all could agree on the fact that social networking and new media were new, but very vibrant, forces, for better or worse.
“Social media is so important,” Madison said. “It’s almost like currency. If I know something that you don’t know, I’m smarter and better than you! So whether you like sports or not, you gotta be in that conversation.”
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