MEDIA ROUNDUP: Baseball maintains media interest

Even without the steroids scandal, reporters are interested in the national pastime because of the rich tradition and history inherent to baseball.

Even without the steroids scandal, reporters are interested in the national pastime because of the rich tradition and history inherent to baseball.

Forget the current steroid controversy and the fact that many of today's youth seem far more intrigued by faster-paced sports. Baseball remains an integral part of the cultural fabric of this country, and the media's interest in it is as strong as it was 10, 20 or even 50 years ago. "There's a lot of action in football and basketball," says Cliff Russell, senior director of communications for the Detroit Tigers. "But baseball is still the national pastime, and it's an American institution. So baseball is still going to be covered." Part of the sport's appeal are the statistics it generates and the fact that these numbers can be endlessly analyzed and debated. "Baseball is such an information-driven sport that the communications department is always going to be busy," explains Russell. The Tigers nearly set a Major League record last year for losses, but Russell says the interest in the team hasn't changed at all. "The Detroit Tigers are an institution, and folks in this area are always going to be interested. The record we had last year makes it more important that we get good information out there." Reporting on tradition While football and especially basketball are openly courting a younger demographic with sports/urban lifestyle magazines, such as Slam, JJ Cooper, news editor for Baseball America, says baseball's broad and slightly older audience isn't necessarily looking for flashy editorial and graphics. "Tradition is such a big part of baseball, and because of that, your fans don't want you to change that much from year to year," he says. Most of the media focus is squarely on the major leagues, but there are dozens of minor league teams across the country. Chris Metz, director of communications for the Portland Beavers Triple-A team, says the coverage outside the majors isn't nearly as intense. "Few people scrutinize wins and losses because they know it's a developmental league," he says, adding that he doesn't know of any minor league teams that are even followed on the road by their local media outlets. "With us, the formula is the more we can raise attention outside of the game itself, the better it is," Metz says. "My view is that I need to give the media a reason to show, and we do that through innovative promotions." As an example, he cites a Beavers event from several years ago, "Arthur Andersen Appreciation Night," which spoofed the scandal-ridden accounting firm by having inflated numbers on all the statistics, a between innings CEO clean-out-your-desk race, and shredding stations so fans could bring in documents to destroy. "We got a ton of national press from that," Metz says. "We were on every show you can think of, including a radio program from London." The business of baseball The huge amateur participation in baseball means the media also is going to be interested in the latest bats, gloves, and other accessories for the sport, says Formula PR President Michael Olguin, who represents sporting goods company Easton. Easton does have the luxury of having Sammy Sosa as its endorser, but, Olguin says, when it comes to equipment, "A lot of the stories are more gadget-focused. Even when we're pitching the Little League angle, we stress the latest technology. Most of the time, the story is not being written by the professional baseball beat writer. It may end up being the sportswriter who's not assigned to one particular area." It's easy to forget that baseball is also big business and, as such, coverage routinely appears outside the sports pages. Jim Gallagher, SVP of PR for MLB Advanced Media, says he had a great deal of success pitching the MLB.com website - which had 650 million visitors last year - as a dot-com success story. "We get a tremendous amount of interest from straight business reporters who want to take a look at e-commerce opportunities that the site provides," he says. "We're also getting a lot of dedicated tech reporters. The online reporter at The Wall Street Journal is a guy we talk to several times a week, and the e-commerce reporter at The New York Times is a great fan of what we do." Pitching... baseball
  • Leverage the public's interest in athletes' lives to get baseball coverage beyond the sports pages.
  • The rise of the internet has combined with the rapid growth of 24-hour sports-talk radio to dramatically increase the number of opportunities for pitching baseball-related stories, so look for outlets outside the traditional print arena.
  • Using the occasional humorous angle might help you cut through the cold statistics surrounding the sport and put it all in perspective.

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