Tuesday, November 2, 2021

How the lack of local sports media hurts the brand

By Zachary Baru

One of the biggest assets of our small region here in Western Massachusetts is the fact that this little area actually does in fact have a great deal of media entities.  While the number of local news stations, radio stations (both public and private radio) websites and local papers that focus on one or more towns is arguably a lot greater than the size of the market, the amount of full news coverage has declined in recent years.  Papers have become smaller, news stations have merged but remain on separate channels at separate times, and websites are increasingly asking for subscriptions to see full content.  So where does all of this leave sports?

Sports in Western Mass.

One of my greatest memories of my childhood in Western Mass. was following sports here in the region.  I always enjoyed reading Garry Brown in the Union News, Sunday Republican, and now The Republican.  I enjoyed watching Scott Coen on News 40 and both WWLP's and News 40's high school sports coverage - for not just football, but all sports.  I enjoyed reading The Republican's stories about local sports but also their two full pages of scores, calendars and box scores.  I could see everything going on in the sports world with just one glimpse.  While some of this remains the same, a lot has changed.  Not just locally, but nationwide.  We are seeing a trend of sports departments getting smaller and smaller in both papers and news stations.  Many local news stations throughout the country, including here in Western Mass., do not have a sports department anymore, and show sports stories from time to time.  This begs the question, how does this hurt the brand?

Sports media is essential for local sports teams.  We are fortunate to have eight local sports teams at either the professional, semi-professional, or amateur/collegiate development level.  These are the Springfield Thunderbirds, Western Mass. Pioneers, New England Mutiny, Western Mass. Zombies, Holyoke Blue Sox, Pittsfield Suns, North Adams SteepleCats and Westfield Starfires.  Fortunately for some of these teams, they do still receive good coverage from local media.  The Thunderbirds and Blue Sox enjoy decent coverage, but even both of these franchises do not get the complete coverage across all mediums they once had.

Present-Day Coverage

Coverage for the Pioneers is not what is has been in the past, and even the Mutiny, who now have become a staple in Western Mass. having formed in 1999 as the Springfield Sirens, receive limited coverage.  It is understandable that Berkshire County teams such as the Suns and SteepleCats will not get coverage in Springfield, but what kind of local television coverage can these teams get?  Especially when many people who live in Berkshire County only receive local channels from the Albany market.  These teams rely on all forms of coverage, from print, to digital, to television, to radio.

Fortunately WAMC, Albany Public Radio and local NPR affiliate, does in fact cover Berkshire County.  But the fact remains that local sports coverage in the media just is not what is once was.  And while nothing can ever stay the same, especially with the emerging media and technology landscape, the brand of local sports has been hurt over the last decade.  

The Effect on Local Sports

Less media coverage to local teams hurts franchises' marketing, sales, and overall awareness.  In today's economy, between prices and competition within the entertainment industry, it is hard enough to get people to come and watch a game in person.  Local teams do not have the luxury that major league teams have when it comes to television contracts.  Local sports depend on in-person attendance.  To anyone that says "no one reads the paper", or "no one is watching local news on TV anymore", I simply say that is wrong.  People are still reading papers and watching news, just sometimes on different platforms.  I would argue that news and media is consumed more today than it has ever been, especially with new digital platforms for it to be delivered.

Whether it is a newspaper, a digital version on a desktop or phone, television, a streaming platform with local news, YouTube, radio or a podcast, people are consuming media just as much as ever, but in more ways than ever before.  Media is still extremely relevant, and local sports teams know this.  They depend on the local media to get the word out about their team.  And while the responsibility still lies with the team to market itself, a lack of sports coverage truly hurts the brand for the local teams we love.

Zach Baru can be followed @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com. 

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