MEDIA ROUNDUP: Media giving amateur sports play

Though many media outlets do not have beat writers for recreational sports, other reporters are paying attention to the new trends in these amateur activities.

Though many media outlets do not have beat writers for recreational sports, other reporters are paying attention to the new trends in these amateur activities.

On any given day, parks, fields, and gyms around the country are filled with amateurs - many with far more enthusiasm than talent - playing a recreational sport for the sheer joy of it. Despite reports that Americans are growing increasingly unfit, there are still plenty of recreational athletes out there, and, for the most part, the media pay attention to the activities they enjoy, though you might have to look a bit to find it. "Most daily newspapers don't have a beat writer for recreational sports," says Mark Beal, managing partner with Alan Taylor Communications. "That means with a recreational sport, whether it's dodgeball or a triathlon, you have to give them a story that has tremendous human interest." Michael Olguin, president of Formula PR, says there are regional exceptions, noting papers in the Sun Belt are far more likely to have recreational-sports beat writers because of the proliferation of running and swimming sports in the region. These reporters will cover many activities with a health and fitness angle, he says, adding, "These reporters will also cover non-traditional sports like Frisbee golf." Looking past the sports pages Steven Schwadron, managing supervisor with the Miami office of Fleishman-Hillard and a former sports reporter with The Miami Herald, suggests the best bet for recreational sports may be beyond the sports sections. "I tell people not to go to the sports sections because they're not going to cover recreational sports." Instead Schwadron recommends pitching these stories to the community section. "These are the tabloid inserts that really go into the pockets of a community, and they are always looking for 'feel good' stories." Mark Hopkinson, founder of Boca Raton, FL-based NewsMark Public Relations, adds, "A lot of papers look at these club sports initially as a diary item or a calendar piece, so it's up to you to make it stand out. You're up against a zillion other pitches, and it always comes down to how you develop the finer points of the stories. You've got to extract from your client the key points of the story." What's surprising about recreational sports is how many new activities are now included in the category. Jeffrey Hennion, SVP for strategic planning for Dick's Sporting Goods, handles media inquiries for the chain and notes that paintball is now its fastest growing recreational sport. Hennion says Dick's doesn't do a lot of media outreach, but adds, "We get calls from all kinds of reporters doing stories on some new trend or product." Molly Wallace, communications manager for Wilson Sporting Goods' team sports division, also says she doesn't do a lot of media outreach to the consumer press. "Most of our focus is really on coaches," she explains, "and so we specifically target trades," including Sporting Goods Business, as well as outlets aimed at coaches and athletic directors. Fine-tuning the approach When it comes to recreational sports, Olguin says, "You can't really go national - you have to target your approach." Formula represents Easton softball, and Olguin says the agency does a lot of market-by-market media outreach. "The Los Angeles Times probably isn't going to run a story about softball," he says, "so you have to focus on the softball pockets of interest like Tennessee and other parts of the south, Michigan, Ohio." But Beal notes the Olympic Games present some national opportunities for volleyball, swimming, and running to raise their national profiles. "It could even be a sport like team handball," he adds, "because this is the one time every four years USA Today may devote a cover story to 'team handball 101,' explaining what it is, how it's played, and its history." Above and beyond the health-centric magazines, such as Shape, Men's Health, and Men's Fitness, Beal says traditional lifestyle titles will cover recreational sports, provided they have a bit of an edge. "Maxim, FHM, and those kinds of magazines are looking for different sports," he explains. "They may not do a piece on running, but they'll probably look at a pitch about an adventurous racer who runs up mountains and goes through lakes and ponds." Pitching... recreational sports
  • There tends to be a bit of a bias among sports editors toward the major sports, so your best bet might be a new, non-traditional pitch to health and fitness writers, or even community reporters
  • Even the most interesting recreational sports stories still need a human-interest component, so focus on the players' personalities as much as the activity
  • As they do every four years, the Olympics are sure to raise the profile and interest of other recreational sports, so now might be the time to leverage that interest in order to get more coverage

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