Sports in the 24/7 News Era

baberuthBy now, we’ve all heard the updates on the Tiger Woods saga… possibly ad-nauseum. For me, this was the moment I realized I no longer want to hear about the private lives of athletes. Don’t get me wrong, I check People.com occasionally, but I also spend half my day on ESPN.com. Also, I understand the millions of dollars in endorsements that can be wiped out by a US Weekly-worthy single transgression and it’s definitely news-worthy if there is a major criminal offense that has been committed.

But my question is this: is sports better or worse off in this era of 24/7 news cycles?

On one hand, you don’t have to hear about the “shot heard ’round the world” from a newspaper article. You don’t have to imagine Babe Ruth calling his shot and moments later hitting a homerun to that same spot. You don’t have to wonder for 12 hours who won Ali-Frasier II (or III or IV).

What’s left to wonder these days? How many dunks will make the sports show’s Top 10? Why the Monday Night Football highlights weren’t the lead story last night? Whether soccer will get a mention on SportsCenter?

Are we better off for knowing all the intimate details of how Latrell Sprewell choked his coach? For hearing Allen Iverson complain about practice? For having the sports highlight shows seem more like police blotters? Or for reading about Tiger’s philandering?

Does this extra knowledge actually add to our game-watching experience? Some people could argue that knowing more about the players helps us to identify with them. It helps us feel closer to our favorite players and therefore be more interested in buying game tickets and merchandise.

But what we end up with is subtraction by addition. By knowing all of this additional, real-time information, we lose the ability to idolize these players without a nagging feeling that someday it will be their name on the front page of the paper tomorrow. How do fathers look their sons in the eye and say “there is a man you can emulate” when they aren’t truly sure if that player is clean. The athlete could be taking performance-enhancing drugs, driving drunk, carrying around illegally concealed weapons, or cheating on their wives – and sooner or later we’ll know about it.

What I do know are the attributes that draw me to sports: the competition, passion, athleticism and skill that athletes display on their chosen field. They don’t have to be perfect husbands, drivers, or moral-compasses to thrill fans.

For now, besides the athlete’s pocketbook, the coprorate sponsors are the biggest losers. Marketing executives have to be shivering in their shoes when they sign contracts from here on out. Tiger was untouchable. Other than his infamous swearing on the course, he was the closest thing we had to ‘clean.’ This incident will go to show companies that no endorsement is safe. All of them have inherent risks because their products are endorsed by humans, and humans make mistakes.

I for one will long for the days when we knew a little less about our sports stars, so that we could enjoy them a little more.

2 thoughts on “Sports in the 24/7 News Era

  • December 3, 2009 at 10:00 am
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    It’s nice to finally see an intelligently written article about the unfortunate subject that currently is Tiger Woods. I completely agree with everything you said. What I would add is if given time his current sponsors decide to drop his endorsement of their products, looking at the incredible athlete that he is, there are countless opportunities for other companies to snatch him right up.

    If we just look at the athlete, he should be pretty set. If we look at the man with all of his short comings and humanity, I’d still like to believe he’s set but the reality is for some companies his athleticism isn’t going to be enough. It’s those that might pull out. It’s also those same companies that might smack themselves in their collective buttocks after the fact going, “Now tell me again why we dropped him?”

    Great post!

  • December 4, 2009 at 1:03 pm
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    Nice post. This new 24/7 age of media can certainly be over bearing at times. Unfortunately though, it is us, the fans, that can largely be held responsible for creating it. Fans wanted the inside access to the players. We want that connection. Of course, like you said, its had the side effect of humanizing the people. Its a catch 22, and it doesn’t look like we have anyway of going back.

    I don’t foresee Tiger losing any endorsement deals. Truth be told, the people he’s marketed towards (middle age to older WASP’s) have probably gone through a lot of the same situations (50% of marriages ending in divorce means that there’s a pretty good chance some of the Tiger Woods marketing base has gone through some sort of infidelity or rough time, or the like).

    The point is that I don’t think there’s morality in advertising. Just capitalism. Tiger’s alleged transgressions aren’t enough to sway enough of the public to turn on him, therefore, he’s still profitable. What advertiser can turn down his revenue generating power, if he has it?

    Even if the public did view this as morally outrageous, continued high performance would allow Tiger to regain those previous sponsorships and then some. Look at Kobe Bryant.

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