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.


1 Comment

  1. […] Consider the source Dave Donaghy is a former sports reporter for the Herald Sun, who was hired by the Melbourne Storm to do publicity for them. Below is a long article mentioning him in connection with sports teams getting publicity for their games & other activities. In what context did he tell this story? A bunch of young rugby players out of town for a tournament, at breakfast already in the can-you-top-this mood with a story about a contact with a movie actress. Of course we know young men never brag about their exploits, do they? And reporters never bend the truth just a little to make a better story, do they? So could a chance encounter in a hotel hallway get exaggerated into "I met her when she came knocking door-to-door looking for her manager" by a former tabloid writer turned publicist? What better way to get more publicity for the team he represents? Somehow I believe this report belongs in the same category as the Meltdown of the Week reports. I rest my case. Cash for comment? How NBL clubs can court the press Scibz’ Spiel […]

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