Cash for comment? How NBL clubs can court the press

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!,” yelled Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network.

That’s the feeling Australian basketball supporters should have at the moment as they search for news on the National Basketball League. With the exception of the Adelaide Advertiser’s Boti Nagy, most mainstream media outlets have been conspicuous by their silence when it comes to the NBL in the past couple of months. This follows a 2009/09 season where AAP pulled the pin on their game reports and Fox Sports showed just one live game per week.

An example of the media’s apathy and laziness towards basketball was shown last week when the news broke that David Barlow had quit the Melbourne Tigers to play in Spain. Who was it who broke this news?

Grantley Bernard? Nope.

Radio SEN or one of the television networks? Nope.

It was ex-Townsville skipper John Rillie, on his blog JR, On Fire.

Rillie didn’t discover this news through any contacts he acquired during his playing days. He found it on a European website after searching the internet for original story ideas – something any investigate journalist could have done if they weren’t so “busy” waiting for official press releases.

The dilemma for Basketball Australia and NBL clubs, therefore, is how to overcome the media’s attitude towards the game and increase column inches and airtime. The internet is often heralded as the answer, however it’s important to understand the difference between reinforcement, which is where the web simply entertains those already interested in basketball, and mobilization, which is where the net attracts new supporters. In the case of blogs, live streaming and Wollongong’s new social networking website, these are just preaching to the converted. Only mainstream media can mobilize new supporter bases.

The mainstream media are about to undergo rapid change. Fairfax has been slashing jobs, overseas newspapers are on the brink of collapse, and advertising revenue and circulation figures will continue to drop as outlets turn their attention to online reporting. Now, therefore, is the time for sports to show some innovation and exploit the press’ economic vulnerabilities. For example, why don’t the Melbourne Tigers pay a portion of Grantley Bernard’s salary in return for guaranteed coverage?

This concept initially came from Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban, in his blog post Why Pro Sports Need Newspapers:

“My suggestion…is to…create a “beat writer co-operative”.  We need to create a company that funds, depending on the size of the market and number of teams, 2 or more writers per market, to cover our teams in depth. 

They will report to the newspapers where the articles will be placed, who will have complete editorial control. In exchange, the newspapers will provide a minimum of a full page on a daily basis in season, and some lesser amount out of season. That the coverage will include game reporting that is of far more depth than is currently in place, along with a minimum number of feature articles each week in and out of season.

For the newspapers, it’s a way to get employees off the books, retain good writers that have a history with the papers and teams, and actually improve their publications.

I know this is in violation of all previous principles of editorial church and state, but then again, watching papers going out of business and not even being able to give themselves away means it’s time to start a new branch of that church. “

This suggestion is also similar to the concept of “interest funded journalism”, proposed by media blogger Dan Conover in his post 2020 vision: What’s next for news:

“Why shouldn’t the Sierra Club sponsor journalists? Why shouldn’t the Republican Party subsidize particular bloggers? If the American Petroleum Institute can spend millions on PR, advertising and political lobbying, why shouldn’t the Union of Concerned Scientists go beyond press releases and start funding, distributing and placing original content? Tired of trying to communicate your profession’s expertise to mainstream media? Why not hire some communicators and bypass the mainstream press entirely?”

While proponents of the media as a “Fourth Estate” will question the journalist’s ability to scrutinize their employer, commercial arrangements between sporting clubs and media outlets are nothing new. St.Kilda and Melbourne Victory are sponsored by The Age, and the Melbourne Vixens are sponsored by the Herald Sun. More blatantly, the Melbourne Storm is owned by News Limited. Storm’s column inches in the Herald Sun are clearly disproportionate to the size of its supporter base, and it’s hard to imagine the paper being critical of the club’s business practices. Dave Donaghy, who was the Herald Sun’s NRL reporter just 12 months ago, is now the Storm’s media manager. It’s difficult to imagine Caroline Wilson becoming Richmond’s media manager or Michael Lynch quitting The Age to become Melbourne Victory’s spokesman, but things are obviously very tight between the Herald Sun and Storm.

Cuban’s suggestion is simply taking these kinds of relationships to a new level by recognising the newspaper industry’s grim future and having the foresight to capitalize.

There are also other ways of being innovative, such as clubs filming their own press conferences and sending the footage to the television networks that don’t turn up. Of course, clubs could also put more effort into wining and dining their local reporters as if they were major sponsors.

The alternative is to continue sending off press releases and seeing them buried on page 80 next to the obituaries.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me mad as hell. I’m not going to take it anymore.

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Scrutinising the Fourth Estate: A review of the AFL media in season 2009

As the AFL finals draw closer, let’s have a look at how some of the media outlets have performed this season….

seven

The addition of Leigh Matthews has improved Seven’s telecast, as has the end of its ridiculous half-time switcheroo in the commentary box.

 Global Financial Crisis not withstanding, a massive pay rise should also be handed to the bigwig who relegated David Schwarz and Ricky Olarenshaw to Sunday afternoons,  where hung-over  and sleep deprived viewers won’t notice they’re being spoken to by inarticulate buffoons.

Bruce McAvaney’s constant questioning during play suggests he’s auditioning for Eddie McGuire’s gig on Hot Seat (“kicks it to Player X, gee he’s playing well isn’t he? You get the feeling they need one more goal, don’t you reckon?), while someone needs to tell Nathan Buckley that it’s pronounced “isn’t it”, not “innit.”

If Seven can broadcast its talent quests and C-grade dancing contests live, surely it can pay the same respect to football, and it should also return its nosebleed camera to the good folk at Google Earth.

ten

The introduction of ONE HD has given viewers an extra dose of Robert Walls every Monday night, which is sure to curtail the Federal Government’s attempts to promote digital television.  

The channel has also made Julie Corletto and Irene van Dyk household names (what, you haven’t heard of them?) and has inspired little tackers all over the country to erect basketball rings next to their trampolines.

Mark Howard has been a surprise-packet on the boundary line and should permanently replace Christi Malthouse , while Pete Helliar should quit while he’s ahead with his stale “Strauchanie” character. Hey, he’ll have plenty of time on his hands to think of a new gimmick now that Pete and Myf has been given the Robin Nahas from Triple M.

foxsports

It may be off Broadway, but Fox Sports is home to one of the best play-by-play commentators in the business. Brian Taylor is measured and spontaneous with his humour, as opposed to Dennis Cometti who almost forces his colleagues to giggle at his scripted and distracting one-liners.

Unfortunately there’s not much else to get excited about in the network’s commentary box.  Matthew Campbell should stick to spruiking his bookmaking gimmicks, while Dwayne Russell’s predictable commentary really is “enough to make a grown man cry”, with his repetitive expressions (e.g. “Nails it!) and trivial facts.

And has anyone looked more uncomfortable on television than Gerard Whateley on Before the Bounce? Poor old Gerard, who is your in-bed-by-nine type and is accustomed to serious chatter on the ABC, didn’t know what to do when he found himself sitting amongst the blokey banter of Jason Dunstall, Danny Frawley and Damien Fleming.

nine

Footy Classified remains compulsory viewing, although it has suffered from the absence of the Beat the Press segment and regular interview guests.

Grant Thomas is an outstanding media performer and must be recruited by another radio network immediately, while Caroline Wilson appears to genuinely enjoy being on the show.

The only downside is the pretentious Craig Hutchison, who expresses his opinions as if they’re gospel and interrupts the engrossing dialogue of other panel members with contrived conflict.

The Footy Show has improved this year, although it would be even better if Supreme Court judges issued a suppression order on Shane Crawford’s immature antics, rather than worrying about harmless medical records.

sen

Andrew Maher’s elocution has been the subject of much criticism this year, with one letter to the Herald Sun suggesting SEN should give away a bottle of “foine woine at noine” to anyone who can understand him.

 SEN’s refusal to replace Billy Brownless with a new co-host makes the breakfast program sound tired, while The Run Home’s soapbox segment is riddled with cringe-worthy impersonations and in-house jokes.

This blogger has  banned The Good Oil ever since Mark Doran told a talkback caller, who was a South Dragons  supporter expressing his disappointment at the club’s demise, to “get over it” and follow the Tigers.

And is Luke Darcy instructed to leave his personality at the door when he hosts Friday drive with Liam Pickering?

The others:

Triple M’s sliding ratings certainly haven’t been helped by the laconic Hamish McLachlan. Let’s hope Gillon has a job ready for him at the AFL.

 3AW would do well to promote Sports Today producer Bruce Eva to its AFL coverage. Eva’s football knowledge is second to none and he has shown during his time at SEN and NIRS that he’s a competent commentator.

Super SEABL not so Crazy after all

 
Australia’s summer basketball league may be tarnished by negative headlines, but its premier winter competition, the South East Australian Basketball League, is experiencing no such problems.

In fact, a recent trip to Geelong to watch the Supercats play the Mount Gambier Pioneers showed how the NBL could learn a few things from its semi-professional counterpart.

The on-court standard was obviously inferior to the big league, but the Supercats’ game-night presentation was almost of a comparable standard. While The Arena is no oil painting from the outside, the interior redevelopments make it a first-class venue which must be the envy of other SEABL clubs. There’s food and bar amenities, an audible sound-system hanging from the roof, two thousand numbered seats and a big screen which purports to be “Geelong’s first 16:9 projector screen.”

Supercats management were clearly taking notes at the South Dragons’ home games, with the player introductions seeing the lights go out, and there were also cheerleaders (albeit adolescents), a mascot imaginatively known as “Supercat”, and competitions including a half-court shot for five thousand dollars.

The game was exciting, too, with some hot shooting from the likes of Dallas Jeffree and Tariq Naqqash seeing the Pioneers come back from a hefty deficit and almost snare an unlikely victory. The Supercats regularly draw around the 1500 mark, and every single one of them would have gone home satisfied.

The moral of the story is that basketball clubs do not have to spend millions of dollars on world-class players to put bums on seats. There are critics who oppose the prospect of a rigid salary cap in the NBL, fearing it would dilute its on-court appeal, but money guzzling ex-NBA players are not fundamental to a successful league. A professional game-night presentation, strong community attachment, off-court stability and a positive public perception are the basics that the NBL should be striving for.

The SEABL, and other winter leagues, has achieved stability because many of its clubs are owned by local associations financed by registration fees, rather than a perilous reliance on gate-takings and benevolence from private owners.

The league has certainly found its niche this season. It has secured Crazy John’s as its naming-rights sponsor, it promotes itself through mainstream media such as WIN, 1116 SEN and a weekly wrap-up on the Herald Sun website, and it’s trialling a live streaming service.

It is moving forward. Let’s hope the NBL can do the same.

"Geelong's first 16:9 projector screen"

"Geelong's first 16:9 projector screen"