This past week was some kind of perfect sports and media storm: baseball is getting ready to enter the playoffs, high school and college football began in earnest, and professional football is back , as if it really ever disappeared. But there is another perfect storm brewing, and it involves cross-ownerships of sports teams and media outlets.
Back in 2001, Major League Baseball began its own news operation, and most people laughed. But no one is laughing now. Comcast owns a sports network in California, the Boston Red Sox recently bought the "Boston Globe," and the Los Angeles Dodgers are thinking about the possibility of buying the "Los Angeles Times" and the "Chicago Tribune."
What this is all about is known as "leverage." Media people are trying to leverage the inherent value of sports, and sports owners are trying to figure out how to access the huge audiences available across all media forms
But there is a larger question here, and that is about sports journalism. After all, when the leagues, the owners and reporters are all connected to the same bottom line, how independent can sports reporters be?
One only has to look at how ESPN withdrew from collaboration with PBS in a documentary about football concussions. Apparently the NFL pressured the network not to be part of the investigation. I guess the ESPN slogan, "The worldwide leader in sports" doesn't mean "The worldwide leader in sports reporting."
Sports writers have always suffered from a "cheerleader" complex, where local and national fans have expected the reporters to write only about the good side of the games, and ignore the problems.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, sports figures themselves have almost made the game secondary to other news about sports, yet the line between journalism and profit is all-too-easily crossed, but must still be maintained. Sports reporting is no different.