When it comes to Sports, the Media has only one agenda – MONEY.
Often times, people complain about why the media does not spend time talking about a particular team or why local or national media shuns a team from one school and gives another team at the same school far more attention. There’s good reason behind it and it is not media bias, it’s called giving the audience what they want. If the media gives the audience what they want, they are more likely to read, watch, subscribe and buy. It is really simple and it certainly applies to sports that have seasonality. It also impacts publications like this one. Let’s get controversial, shall we.
There’s Nothing Wrong with Following the Money
Many digital publishers (Rivals, Scout, 247), television networks (ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports) and media conglomerates (Cox) track little details about their traffic and viewership to encourage further engagement and determine what attracts viewers. Some concepts will work and others will not. The lessons learned help determine the frequency, language and experience of the engagement with the respective products. It seems basic, but it often times gets lost. It’s work, it’s in a fun industry, but it’s still WORK.
These companies have to generate revenues and spend judiciously to make a profit or else they have to exit the market. In the case of the local media and digital publishers, the generation of revenues and careful budgeting happens to go hand-in-hand. Staffs are small, time is limited and revenues are always being tested.
Look at the image above, it is a comparison of the interest courtesy of Google Trends based on the two search terms in the image caption. Why should media pay attention to a sport that has such low comparative interest? Why put in the time to write articles and put in the necessary work to drive in such little revenue? Publishers have expenses and have employees to pay. They should turn a profit too! Only during four months of the past four years has Georgia Basketball coverage been justified based on demand, if this comparison chart was used as the only source for determining interest.
Be Fortunate for the Georgia Basketball Coverage That Exists
How often do you hear of Sidewalk Georgia alumni that pay attention to basketball? Not too often, in fact, they would comprise a rather small minority. With Sidewalk Alumni outnumbering actual Alumni at a ratio of 14 to 1, it is no surprise that if Georgia Football is what the Sidewalk Alumni want, then Georgia Football news, analysis and recruiting coverage is what they should get! Do not get in the way of what the audience wants to push an “agenda”, that is like asking to lose money.
Georgia Basketball coverage exists to fill a donut hole, if fans want Georgia Basketball to be the actual donut, then they have to hope that more people care about Georgia Basketball to justify greater coverage. With such ratios of support and interest, there is no reason to cover further than the status quo and the status quo is actually quite generous.
In a survey of RSS News articles published in a span of 24 hours (8:30 PM on 11/21/2015 to 8:30 PM 11/22/2015) on TheDawgBone.com, the articles concerning football outnumbered the non-football articles by a ratio of 11-to-1. Does that sound wrong? No, it does not because the fanbase does not demand it. Why write news articles on stories people do not wish to read? When it comes to comparing Georgia Football news against Georgia Men’s and Women’s Basketball news, the number of clicks drawn for Georgia Football: ~149 and the number of clicks drawn for Georgia Basketball: 68. The media members actually would like Basketball to be more popular because it means that their coverage brings in more views and they would not have to cover mundane Football stories during the offseason. However, there is a recognition of “don’t let your hoops get in the way of my football“.
Hoops note (don’t run away!): Chattanooga, which Georgia lost to in its opener, also beat Illinois tonight. — Seth Emerson (@SethEmersonAJC) November 22, 2015
If demographics generated from click-throughs to this site are an indication, here are the age breakdowns of the readers that get their Dawg News from this popular RSS aggregator. It is the Fox News audience, older males and there’s nothing wrong with that. It also makes a publisher re-think what banners to place and how best to cater to this audience. However, TheDawgBone is definitely not where most readership is derived for this site, which means that on-site banner placements is not as simple.
Simply put, Georgia Basketball does not deserve equal coverage because it is not mainstream and certainly does not matter to the masses. Some alternative trend comparisons between Georgia Football and Basketball.
Above is the term “UGA Football” vs. “UGA Basketball” on Google Trends.
The above image is an all-encompassing comparison in aggregate between the interest in the two programs. Georgia Football interest at its lowest point is STILL far more popular than Georgia Basketball.
If you are wondering why coverage of Georgia Basketball is only from mid-October to mid-March, the above is why and quite frankly, the amount of coverage received is rather generous considering the popularity. It’s still a niche sport and most fans care about FOOTBALL ONLY. How popular is Georgia Basketball right now? Georgia Tech game tickets are still available, in fact, lots of them are still available. So many, in fact, that all residents in Glenn Hall at Georgia Tech could easily have block seating at Stegeman Coliseum.
The only sense of positivity surrounding the demand for Georgia Basketball is that the students are coming in fuller force and there is a sense of trending upwards because the younger demographic has a taste for hoops that previous generations do not.
The sports vertical has low RPMs and CPCs
Subscriptions are needed to supplement the low revenue generated per thousand impressions. A general finance site would make nearly four times more revenue per thousand impressions than a sports related site. The nature of the revenue generated requires a lean staff. A lean staff also means that not everything can be covered and that there must be prioritization.
Banner advertising can easily be blocked and there’s already enough banner advertising blindness. This is a reason for the takeover ads, autoplaying video ads, native advertising and other creatively executed advertisements. It is also why information cannot just be free anymore and thus the paywall.
Independent sources (like this site, DawgSports, PCBB1917) and social media beyond the recruiting, newspapers and media conglomerates have challenged the paywall and made things even more difficult for the traditional operators and disruptors.
Some say that there is no benefit to reporting a story first, but there actually is in this industry and it better be exclusive for a few hours behind a paywall to justify subscriptions and maintain credibility. Where do you want to be first to a story? Football, which captures 100% of the audience or Basketball, which captures a small niche? Being first to a story also entails the SEO benefits, which is free traffic that could be converted over.
Newspapers are suffering as well
This is not a winning industry as one can tell. The McClatchy Company happens to be the parent company of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and the Macon Telegraph. As the print industry tries to reinvent itself, it has to focus on the stories that matter. In the case of sports, that focus does not have to be ideologically nor journalistically driven. It’s a matter of demand for sports.
Media cannot just ignore breaking news like the terrorist attacks in Paris, election results in Argentina or if the Federal Reserve chooses to punt on raising interest rates yet again. Sports stories can be glossed over and/or ignored with ease.
Newspapers have one or two beat reporters for Georgia and that is about it, they have to prioritize and know their audience to help pitch in and generate the readership. For many, being a beat reporter for Georgia Athletics is a high point and even a dream job. Virality and engagement are the name of the game in the digital space, but newspapers are not exactly conducive outside of the “mailbags”.
Basketball Recruiting is Different from Football
Basketball is a beautiful, global sport that rivals soccer on the global stage. American Football is isolated to two countries in terms of its following. Football is far more straight-forward in its recruiting and recruiting cycles, but basketball is not. Spring recruiting and March Madness conflict with Football Spring Practice. Football camps and cattle calls take place during AAU season. Sense the problem?
- Language barriers
- Cultural barriers
- Staffing barriers
- Scheduling barriers
- Subscriber demand barriers
There are excellent basketball recruiting reporters out there and they happen to be well-connected with the AAU programs and High School coaches. It is a bit rare that a reporter that can work well with the High School prospects and coaches in Moultrie, Georgia and have an easy time with Basketball prospects coming out of Archbishop Molloy, Oak Hill Academy or even AAU programs like the Carolina Wolves and Team Penny. Then there are of course the prejudices concerning the management of these AAU programs based out of ignorance and hypocrisy.
The simplicity and popularity of Football has given Basketball a boutique sort of effect. Independent, well-connected National recruiting experts have made their own digital homes through sites like Future150 and HoopSeen. It is an underserved and underappreciated niche that brings together an interestingly diverse crowd.
Then, there’s the Television Aspect
Television takes its cues from your viewership! You want football, they are going to give you lots of it. ESPN, a subsidiary of Walt Disney Company (DIS), will spend $7.3 Billion over the course of 12 years for the exclusive right to the College Football Playoff. Even when it is not live, they are going to shove it down your throat whether it be replays or the week-long hype fests (studio shows). Unlike College Basketball’s March Madness that can suddenly pop up every March and capture huge audiences that have never watched a College Basketball game ever, College Football does not have that mass Super Bowl-like appeal. Of course, the major reason behind March Madness’ appeal are the brackets and slipper still fits moments.
CBS/Turner have a contract for the NCAA Tournament that is quite expensive, but they benefit from the mass appeal of the tournament so they do not need to have studio shows throughout the season hyping what is to come and carrying a narrative like ESPN does with College Football. For ESPN, College Football is a far greater burden as far as programming and production values. ESPN is far more sensitive to viewer demand and thus the cord-cutter problem presents itself.
ESPN pays at least $1.25 Billion for College Football rights, which include other College Sports rights as well, but the majority of the money is spent for the purposes of College Football. ESPN has to have an agenda because they have televised rights to College Football games and they do not want a National Championship Game or set of Playoff games that feature a pair of schools that would not have appeal on a national basis. Washington State vs. Kansas State in the National Championship would be a ratings loser for ESPN, even if both schools were undefeated. Alabama vs. Ohio State or Notre Dame vs. Texas would be ratings winners for ESPN because the brands have a national cachet. CBS/Turner loves the Cinderella stories because it makes the tournament unpredictable and exciting.
There is no conference bias with ESPN, it is all about ratings and money. Even ESPN College Gameday visiting a campus that is hosting a game on another network hurts ESPN because it means that ESPN missed out on a valuable game and the ratings associated with it. Ever notice how the show conveniently goes to the location that is where the ABC Saturday Night game is taking place most of the time? It is convenient for the broadcasting talent and they want to hype the game that is on broadcast television in prime time with the biggest advertising spend. They lose when they go promote a game that is televised on Fox or CBS because they are hyping someone else’s game even though it all culminates with ESPN’s coverage anyway. ESPN has to hype all year round and has to make everything very serious to lead up to the College Football Playoff.
ESPN cannot avoid talking College Football because they have television rights and have spent so much money to do so. Their tactics have resorted to the way the WWE would promote their Pay-Per-Views, but in this case the College Football Playoff is their Wrestlemania. Shareholders currently love what Walt Disney Company is doing with almost all of their operations, but are not at ease with the trends involving ESPN’s carriage.
The College Football Playoff as a pass-through entity/institution/brand has very little to lose, but ESPN has everything at risk and that puts shareholders at risk. ESPN would be wise to try to influence decision making to create the most ratings compelling National Championship as opposed to placing the most deserving teams.
ESPN’s coverage of NASCAR has completely dissipated and NHL coverage is limited to a two minute segment on SportsCenter after the network lost the rights to both sports leagues. ESPN is a sports network that is devoted to what they cover and have a vested interest in covering. Fox Sports does not have the burdens that ESPN has as far as College Football is concerned and the approach does not require any sort of advocacy or even a burden. Their talent are given far more freedom to express their opinions about the game much like the way ESPN College Basketball analysts are allowed. There is no pressure nor any sort of a burden, they have regular season game coverage, but no buildup is required.
Without the pressures of being the televised home of the NCAA Tournament, ESPN does not have to promote College Basketball all year round. Dick Vitale can enjoy going to Tampa Bay Rays games from April through September without a care in the world and Jay Bilas can go back to Charlotte and practice law during the offseason. ESPN’s College Football talent has to be “on” almost all year round.
Gauging Popularity of the Basketball Programs via Google Trends
Georgia Basketball has a lot of work ahead as a program as far as public demand is concerned compared to rivals. Media coverage of Hoops is secondary and this has to be respected because that is what the audience wants. Until there’s enough demand for Georgia Basketball by the fans, this will never change. In the meantime, the vacuum is filled here.